vendredi 30 décembre 2011

Best of 2011: Spritzing away while Europe sinks (and smelling lovely)

2011 was a bumper year for chypres. Which isn’t especially surprising: chypres are perfumes for tough times. Though they go back centuries, the Coty template was composed while lethal clouds of mustard gas were still blowing over the trenches. The second wave blossomed in the midst or aftermath of the German Occupation. There’s something about chypres, a gravitas in the earthy, iodic facets of oakmoss grounding the sweet flesh of fruit and flowers – soil and tears -- that suits troubled times.
Chypre may well have been, from the outset, a genre teetering between nostalgia and toughness, and if there’s been an uptick recently, it may be for the same reason we’re craving the aesthetics of bygone eras in movies like Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris, Martin Scorcese’s Hugo and Michel Hazanivicius’s The Artist or television series like the BBC’s Downton Abbey or HBO’s Mildred Pierce.
Today’s best chypres lead us by the nose back to a time when perfumes were grown-up, complex and a little brooding. And it may not be by chance that the two that moved me most last year were drawn from their authors’ poignant childhood memories…

Mon Parfum Chéri (Annick Goutal) is Camille Goutal and Isabelle Doyen’s wine-dark, ripe-plums-strewn-on-moist-earth tribute to Femme, a fragrance worn by Camille’s mother Annick. This is less 40s film noir than a Coen brothers rewrite – as damp, earthy and tough as Miller’s Crossing – but it’s got a satisfyingly hefty retro feel, and is one of the most beautiful launches of the year.

Azemour (Parfum d’Empire) is the polar opposite of Mon Parfum Chéri’s autumnal hues: ocean breezes blowing through sun-baked dunes and orange groves. But it owes its unusual salty tinge to tears as much as sea-spray: the scent is meant as an evocation of the land where Marc-Antoine Corticchiato was born and grew up, which his family lost forever, and where he only recently found the courage to go back. As a result, its robust juiciness hides a tender, elegiac quality.

Aromatics Elixir Perfumer’s Reserve, Laurent Le Guernec’s Bordeaux-in-Baccarat-crystal reinterpretation of the Clinique classic, issued for its 40th anniversary in precious extrait form, showcases the seminal herbal-rose-patchouli accord created by Bernard Chant by glazing it with an aldehydic floral accord that regally snubs contemporary trends.

Conversely, Bottega Veneta Eau deParfum is a thoroughly modern product. Michel Almairac, renowned for the elegance of his short formulas, has lifted the skin off the fruity chypres of yore (a genre he had already radically revamped with Gucci Rush) to graft it onto a novel leather accord. Probably the best surprise in the mainstream this year, and one I hope will be successful enough to prompt other luxury houses to veer off the fruitchouli river…

If Bottega Veneta is perfect because it fits the Italian house’s brand identity as snugly as a pair of kid gloves, Prada Candy’s charm lies in its very dissonance: a hot pink piece of caramel stuck on a $3000 handbag. But once that caramel coating melts, Candy bears the signature composed by Daniela Andrier for Prada, revealing a delicate work on musk and iris wrapped in fluffy benzoin. Snorting your sugar fix rather than sucking on it is like sinning without penance – not even the tiny humiliation of wearing an un-classy, girly fragrance. After all, this is Prada.

Beyond the regressive charms of the confectionary shop, we’ll certainly be seeing a lot more cross-pollinating between cuisine and perfumery in coming years. Thierry Mugler, the ballsiest mainstream brand to walk the earth and neighboring galaxies, has paved the way with the Le Goût du Parfum collection, which the chef Helen Darroze has translated into recipes (click here to download in French from Nicolas Olczyk's blog). 

Comme des Garçons is the other fashion/perfume house that’s got weirdness branded in its DNA, and with their new, eponymous oddity – aka “The Blob” – they’ve gotten back in touch with it after a series of co-branded ventures. Under Christian Astuguevieille’s direction, Antoine Lie, then Antoine Maisondieu, grew a flower out of brown packing tape; Rei Kawakubo stuck it in a misshapen glass blob. The resulting monster is urban, romantic and oddly wearable: a brain-exploding demonstration of the secret complicity of synthetic and natural smells.

That industrial/romantic contrast is also what I love about Frédéric Malle’s Perfume Guns: utterly functional gray plastic spray guns spouting utterly refined compositions – my current darling being Bruno Jovanovic’s Chez Monsieur, which basically smells like the place where I’d love to live: a book-lined study with leather chairs and a whiff of cigar. This is my favourite home-fragrancing device of the year, conceived for hotels, and one spritz really does fill a large room.

I haven’t bothered counting the number of new niche brands that sprung up over the past year, but I’ve been thinking that instead of bemoaning the fact, we should embrace it. 
Granted, we’ll never again be able to keep track of it all. But this “long-tail” effect means more voices and sources of inspiration can materialize. It may also, at some point, reach a critical mass that will compel the industry – not only the big labs selling materials and blending oils, but also glass manufacturers and various suppliers – to reconsider its policies vis-à-vis “small” clients and, further along the line, to rethink distribution schemes and circuits…

I’ve been quite impressed by Olfactive Studio, not only because the scents are beautiful, but because the concept – using original photographs as briefs – is very consistently and professionally developed. Céline Verleure, a former perfume industry exec, rounded up a proper creative team and scared up enough of a budget to give the whole endeavour a big-brand effect on a small-brand scale. Her “photography” angle also clicks with a trend that’s gaining ground: the explicit cross-inspiration between perfumery and other art forms.

At the other end of the spectrum, there are the tiny, labour-of-love, one-person operations like NeelaVermeire Créations. This time the source of inspiration is Neela’s native country, India – a market not yet mature for niche brands, but a rich olfactory seam to be mined. Like Sandrine Videault’s Manoumalia for Les Nez, Bertrand Duchaufour’s French-Indian trio hints at the possibility of cross-cultural perfumery. And at the intriguing possibilities that will arise when non-Western perfumers trained in Western techniques start breaking loose… Perhaps the next fragrant breakthrough will come from the BRICs?

I'm optimistic, if not for the world in general, at least for the future of perfumery. It's not all bawling about reformulations or griping fruitchoulis and iFrags, is it? There's still gorgeous stuff pouring out of the labs...

And now, on to you... 
What will you be wafting on New Year's Eve to usher in 2012?

For more 2011 round-ups, check out Bois de Jasmin, Now Smell This, Perfume Posse and Perfume-Smellin’ Things.

 Picture by Roxanne Lowit.

32 commentaires:

  1. You're right about spritzing while Europe sinks - as well as chypres, I believe lipstick sales do well at such times.

    I loved Bottega Veneta and Candy too, and am pleased to see them feature in so many "best of" lists.

    As for New Year's Scent of the Eve, I haven't decided yet, but it might be a toss up between Amouage Honour Woman, Ta'if and Orris Noir.

  2. Ha! Love the title (and the picture)!

    My favorite 2011 perfume is, hands down, Sweet Redemption, but I haven't tried the new parfums d'empire, which sounds exactly like a dream come true.

    For tomorrow night: Fracas parfum. It is just perfect with my oufit!

  3. Vanessa, re: lipsticks, I seem to remember reading nail polish had replaced them as a recession indulgence?
    I hadn't read other top 10s before writing my own, but I see Bottega Veneta and Candy have made it on almost everyone's lists, even Octavian's, which is really quite a remarkable achievement.
    As for your choices, don't know how you could go wrong with any of them!

  4. Zazie, I did consider Sweet Redemption as well. In fact, there were quite a few things I was sorry to leave out.
    As for Fracas, good choice, let's see this year off with... fracas!

  5. I am trying the Neela Vermeire Trayee sample you sent. I am hooked. Talk about salubrious!

  6. Interesting about the long tail effect...I do not think of it that way at all but perhaps you are right. For myself I'd still rather have a number small enough that we could keep track of it all!

  7. Carla, I'm so happy you love Trayee! Enjoy it in good health.

  8. Robin, I think those days are long gone... and there really isn't much we can do about it, so I'm seeing the niche perfume market as being closer to the book market now: I follow the authors or houses that interest me most, look into the things I stumble on because there's an event at a boutique, and have made my peace with not keeping track of it all... Of course the sample backlog next to my computer is still quite daunting.

  9. Even if I liked quite a few of the 2011 launches, my top two 2011 is Mona di Orios Oud and SL:s De Profundis. Other favorites:

    New Years Eve will be a tribute to Mona,wearing either Oud or my New Year perfume two years ago, Nuit Noire.

  10. Parfumista, I thought of including a perfume by Mona di Orio but to be frank, I'd never really gotten round to catching up with the new ones. I'd finally met Mona last summer and was intending to explore her line more fully before interviewing her... And time unexpectedly ran out. I'd still feel too sad spending time with the fragrances now though, so I'll wait.

  11. I really enjoyed, and resonated with, your treatise on chypres being a chypre lover myself. I love your writing, and look forward to another year. Thank you!
    All the best in the New Year to you.

  12. Chypres come and go as a fashion, I completely agree. I loved discovering some interesting chypres this year, especially Annick Goutal Mon Parfum Cherie.

    Happy 2012, D!

  13. Donna, thank you. This bit about chypres is something I taught in my London courses: it's always important to remember the wider context that gave birth to important perfumes or perfume genres. When I wear Mitsouko, I sometimes think of what the people who first loved it had been through...
    All the best for the New Year to you too!

  14. Victoria, Mon Parfum Chéri (which should have been named "Embrassez-moi") is a lot tougher than its name suggests, but in a way, it has ended up being one of my darling perfumes...
    Happy New Year to you too!

  15. I love your point about the connection between chypres and tough times--I like to think it's also a reaction to the frenzied focus on youth, a focus I find even young girls are getting tired of. Not that these two things are unrelated: when times are tough, it's time to grow up. (With grace, and still with a tender heart, one hopes.)

  16. Alyssa, all the chypres I've picked definitely have a tender heart -- which is a sign of being grown up, I'd say... But, yes, the swing of the pendulum suits me fine because alongside the Candy, we need something to anchor ourselves in this current turmoil... and the complexity and poise of chypre does just that.

  17. Beautiful, melancholy post, D (though there is a silver thread of hope woven therein)...this has been a tough year for so many, myself included, that 'sprightly' scents just didn't seem to have enough weight to counteract the gravity. The new Goutal was perfect to close out this year - and it is a beauty.

    For all that, I am still feeling oddly buoyant about the coming new year and with that, have begun to consider lighter, frillier scents.

    Happy New Year!


  18. Anita, the odd thing is, I'm in a very buoyant mood myself... I think the post really wrote itself, or was drawn from a mood I was in earlier in the year. But we *did* need some gravitas... Athough I wore Mon Parfum Chéri to have dinner with my parents tonight, and have just had a cramp-inducing attack of the giggles with my mother. Go figure!
    And a happy New Year to you too!

  19. Denyse, your reflections on chypres in tough times really resonate with me, too, and I love the perfumes on your list that I've tried so far. That photo from Olfactive Studio is so evocative - I'm praying someone here in the US will carry the line SOON.

    Winter is a meditative time, and I'm drawn to the deep scents from La Via del Profumo ( I also plan to spend time with the delightful Neela Vermeire exploration set.

    Special thanks to you, Denyse, for stimulating posts in 2011 - and here's to reading your book in 2012! ~~nozknoz

  20. Nozknoz, thank you for your kind words... I'm surprised Céline Verleure hasn't found an American point of sale yet, but perhaps she wants to do a slower roll-out. I'll ask her when I get a chance. I understand your point about turning to more meditative scents in winter -- I'm very big on incense notes just now, Encens Flamboyant, Avignon, L'Heure Mystérieuse, and road-testing the new Lutens, L'Eau Froide. The mineral facets of incense just seem to suit snow.

  21. My New Year's Eve will be enlighted by the orange glow of Azemour. I love it, it's the citrus fragrance I always dreamt of, it's so complex and I keep discovering unnoticed facets every time I wear it (today it's cinnamon and candied orange peel, some days ago my girlfriend found a "sand after cooling down" note..). Very poetic and evocative of something of my own past, though it hasn't nothing to share with ocean shore and orangers.
    I wish you a Happy New Year and thank you once more for the always illuminating posts.

  22. Due to my recent streak of crazy good luck and the miracle of snail mail, I will be enjoying the Neela Vermeires.
    Thanks a ton!

  23. The more chypres I try, the more I love the genre (and regret the reformulation of so many classics, most of which I'll never know at their best).

    Last night I wore vintage L'Origan parfum. Today's scent is Bottega Veneta, and I look forward to trying Azamour when my sample set from Parfum d'Empire arrives in the next week or two.

    Best wishes for 2012, Denyse!
    -- Gretchen

  24. Iodine, thank you for your kind words! Azemour is a lovely choice. I have a bottle and gave one to my mother (my father can't stand "perfumy" perfumes and we're hoping he won't be bothered by this one).
    All the best for you in the New Year.

  25. Olive, I hope the samples make it to you safely!

  26. Gretchen, vintage L'Origan is one of the most striking perfumes I know and I treasure my two bottles (they live in the refrigerator though, and I never really think of pulling them out). I'm glad you ordered the Parfum d'Empire sample set: you may not like all of them but they're well worth discovering, they've all got true character.

  27. Thanks for your list. It looks like Prada, Bottega and Annick Goutal win, eh?

    By the way, it really tickles me that your French post is entitled 'Le Best-of'.

  28. Persolaise, it was a toss-up between "le best-of" and "le top ten" so, Franglais for Franglais... And yes, those three seem to have popped up in a lot of lists, deservedly so.

  29. Wonderful round-up. I've just recently tried the Neela Vermeire fragrances, and have been so impressed. And I, too, loved Mon Parfum Cherie Par Camille and Bottega Veneta.

  30. Another Perfume Blog, I agree, the Neela Vermeires are impressive and lush... Overall, there's always a lot to love every year, isn't there?

  31. Happy New Year Denyse!Lovely thoughtful and quietly optimistic post. I sneak spritzes from the Prada Candy tester every time I pass it but am very happy to have a bottle of Bottega Veneta and decants of Mon Parfum Cherie and Azemour. The latter will be replaced by a bottle in the summer I know it. I find it very moving. Love your point about this being a chypre age. I find the fashion for tailored clothes and knee length pencil skirts something which also seems linked with austerity. And my mother went to film appreciation classes a few years back and they learnt that vampire stories were also popular in hard times! I'm still working out why that would be....Nicola

  32. Happy New Year to you too Nicola! I'm not surprised we've been falling in love with the same things... and I truly don't have a clue to explain the vampire movie thingie!