lundi 29 décembre 2008

Looking back in a violet haze... 2008

Helg of The Perfume Shrine has had the excellent idea of herding a group of us holidaying bloggers for a look back at the Year of the Crunch… As you read this, I shall be in my native Montreal a-sniffing with my fellow PoLer and friend Tara!

The Violet Revival

Clearly, after the pale purple year of iris, we were due for an exploration of the astoundingly flexible, candied-powdery-woody facets of the so-retro-it’s-avant-garde violet.

And so violet was 2008’s goût du jour with star turns in Maurice Roucel’s candied Insolence Eau de Parfum (Guerlain) and weird Dans Tes Bras (Frédéric Malle), Antoine Maisondieu’s weirder Comme des Garçons + Stephen Jones, Christophe Laudamiel’s weirder still Geste (Humiecki & Graef), as well as in Emilie Coppermann's Kapsule Floriental (Karl Lagerfeld), Christine Nagel and Aurélien Guichard’s John Galliano (John Galliano), Creed’s Love in Black and Serge Lutens’ El Attarine. Speaking of which, Shiseido’s lawyers ought to get busy: Berdoues, purveyor of violet fragrances since 1936, have launched their own Bois de Violette, according to Osmoz.

Perfumistas go mainstream

Well, perhaps not quite. But the blogs, forums and Sniffapalooza events got quite a lot of mentions in the mainstream media in the US. In the UK, Luca Turin and Tania Sanchez’s Perfumes: The Guide benefitted from a savvy press campaign that got the book reviewed for the quality of its writing as much as for its contents, establishing perfume criticism as a legitimate literary endeavor. One hopes. Certainly, the fact that a genre that was pretty much nurtured online was deemed worthy of a paper publication (by which I mean that publishers actually invested money to produce it, as opposed to the rest of us bloggers investing our time, usually with no financial return) seems to hint to that growing legitimacy in the mainstream. But whether it really becomes a genre, with shelf-space in bookshops, depends on other perfumista authors getting their own publishing contracts.

Several signs seem to point towards a breakthrough in the discourse on perfumery, similar to the development of the discourse on gastronomy: perfumistas may well be tomorrow’s foodies.

…and international

Online perfume-loving communities have been international from the outset, but mostly English-speaking. I’m noticing more hits recently from various national-language forums and blogs, in Germany, Poland, Sweden, Brazil, Slovakia, Romania…

The year of the perfumer-as-star

Could 2008 mark a turning point in the recognition of perfumers? Following the example set by Frédéric Malle, more and more brands are naming perfumers, and pushing them in the spotlights when they promote their launches. The nomination of Thierry Wasser for Guerlain, Bertrand Duchaufour for L’Artisan Parfumeur and Jean-Michel Duriez for Rochas (while remaining at Jean Patou, also owned by Procter and Gamble) as in-house perfumers points to the need, for major brands, to create an identity and/or a stronger consistency in their releases.

Conversely, a handful of perfumers have been striking out on their own. Mark Buxton launched an eponymous line. Christophe Laudamiel authored the whole, offbeat Humiecki & Graef collection but also, more significantly, resigned from his position as senior perfumer at IFF to become co-CEO of a new olfactory design company called AEOSPHERE. Francis Kurkdjian has founded his own perfume house, which he conceives not as a new niche brand, but as the Guerlain of the 21st century.

It will be interesting to note whether this is a trend, and if more mavericks will rebel against the drudge of concocting the nth Angel-clone on a Febreze budget. It also poses the question of art direction: up to now, the degree of creative input of most perfumers is pretty much unknown, except to industry insiders. Even in a brand like Frédéric Malle’s, where total creative freedom is claimed to be the rule, one can suppose that Mr. Malle exercises some guidance, at least in some cases. It’ll be interesting to see if there is more transparency about this process as a result of the higher visibility of perfumers.

And finally, my top... Seven

1) Chanel N°5 Eau Première: N°5 fans turned up their nose, but this reworking of a legend is luminous and perfectly balanced.

2) Chanel Sycomore: A no-flash, exquisitely calibrated vetiver, both smoky and thirst-quenching.

3) Serge Lutens El Attarine: Drew “mehs”from many fans, but to me, this is a sum of Lutensiana: as though several earlier leitmotivs had been drawn together.

4) Guerlain Insolence Eau de Parfum: because smelling it in a duty-free shop got a big grin on my face: the EdP is undeniably Guerlain, Après L’ondée’s manga-reading great-great-great-grand-daughter.

5) Frédéric Malle Dans Tes Bras: I’m not even sure I like it, but for sheer I-need-to-smell-this-again oddness, Maurice Roucel’s composition has held me in its spell since August.

6) Humiecki & Graef: Christophe Laudamiel’s conceptual quintet pushes towards a redefinition of the art of perfumery, while managing to be hilariously witty.

7) Acqua di Parma Profumo: Kudos to Nathalie Lorson for a particularly well executed reformulation of a beautiful 50s fruity chypre (as were Lubin's Nuit de Longchamp and L).

For more views on the year that was, click on the links:


Ars Aromatica

A Rose Beyond the Thames

Bittergrace Notes

I smell therefore I am


Notes from the Ledge


Savvy Thinker

The Non Blonde


The Perfume Shrine

25 commentaires:

  1. Perfectly succinct (as usual)!

    I find I agree with you on every personal "wow" too (except the H&G ones I haven't smelled yet)

    Best wishes! (am unpacking and repacking myself! crazy!)

  2. Hey, Denyse -- thanks for a lovely, thoughtful post. It's always fun to look at other people's lists.

  3. I rather enjoy seeing the perfumers come out of the shadows; they should get all the credit due to them. I wonder if there is talent among "artistic directors" that should be recognized as well? Perhaps in 2009??

    That Eau Premiere is a wonderful thing. Adding Insolence Parfum to the Seek & Sniff list.

    Many thanks for all the joys, interest, learning, and humor you have brought to 2008. :)

  4. We had Iris in 2007, Violets in 2008, do you have any predictions for 2009?
    I hope you have a very fragrant 2009!

  5. I certainly hope you are surviving the snow. I wanted to let you know that I have been converted to applaud Chanel for the accomplishment of Eau Premiere.

  6. I feel this whole self-congratulating retrospective thing between a handful of writers/bloggers is really irritating me to be honest LOL.
    I understand you guys have a knack for writing and this is great, although most reviews often exceed the beauty of the fragrances, I enjoy them a lot but I hope 2009 will be less "everything smells so beautiful" for three pages and a little bit more critical.

  7. Not LOL, I think to myself, what is "more critical" and then I conclude that there is marginal added value in being "more critical" in this context. But, hey! I like to reserve my critical faculties for things like an oral argument in court rather than a list of my favorite perfumes.

    Happy New Year.

  8. Helg, I'd probably have more "wows", but I tend not to make the effort to smell what can't be had in Paris, and I'm unforgivably lazy about the mainstream...

  9. Hi March§ I really should've added Chanel Beige, but I was afraid people would think I had a serious crush on Chris S. (which I do)...

  10. Thank *you*, ScentScelf. I'm intrigued about the role of ADs and will try to find out more inside stuff in 2009...

  11. Arwen, I'm not quite sure about the coming 2009 fad. One would probably have to look through newly available molecules or newly cheap materials. I think we're due for neo-ozonics and lots more amber-woods, but that trend's well under way already.

  12. Cait, it's not so much the snow as the coooooooooold burning my skin off! Isn't Eau Première perfection?

  13. Degeneration, I don't feel that I'm particularly self-congratulating (in public -- off the record I'm probably smug as hell): I'm not part of the industry, so when I congratulate, it's people other than myself.
    That said, because I spend lots of time analysing each fragrance I blog about, I'd rather not waste it blogging about stuff I don't find good, as that would mean living with it for a few days... And this isn't a paying gig!

  14. Cait, I agree about the stakes -- it's different for someone like Octavian, who can back up his assertions with his training.
    And bonne année to you too!!!!

  15. carmencanada, it was a general comment geared towards all of you perfume bloggers. I thought you 'd laugh it off. This Retrospective was a little on the ego side perhaps but again even if I find some of reviews rather "masturbation intellectuelle", I love them a lot anyways. I must have read perfumeshrine 's El Attarine review ten times already, it 's just that the compliments business is not much for fun for me.

  16. Degeneration, I know what you mean, sometimes one *does* get caught in the pleasure of writing, and overshoots past the actual fragrance. I know that it's a risk involved in any critical genre that's not purely a consumer review (I used to do it with music way back when I was a critic). But, again, the congratulations often come in the comments rather than in the posts themselves, which is why I love it when the posts trigger an animated discussion around the subject!

  17. Dear Grain de Musc,
    I found your retrospective very interesting speacially because you pointed out other perfume blogs.
    Thank you for bringing Brazil to the spotlight with Perfume da Rosa Negra, since we are trying to spread and develop a perfume culture in our country.
    In Brazil there are also 2 more blogs about perfumes: Gaëlle´s blog and mine.
    We would love to invite you to get to know us too,

    best wishes and happy 2009,

  18. Hi Simone,
    It's great that there are so many new non-anglophone or francophone (or russophone: they've been around for ages!) perfume blogs and forums popping up all around the world. Three for Brazil! Mind you, it's such a huge country... I'll be adding them to my blogroll as I find out about them!

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