I won’t be sorry to say goodbye to 2015. Here in Paris, the year began and ended in tragedy. Of course, like all things of beauty, perfume can be a solace. Yet after the shock and horror, it’s been hard to channel quite the same amount of enthusiasm into it as usual. Or even to muster up much desire to write. Whenever work hasn’t been tying me down to the computer, I’ve felt the need to be with people rather than putting in more hours at the keyboard. With deadlines piling up and a nagging health issue requiring attention, the blog was the only area in my life where I could cut myself some slack, hence my silence.
Meanwhile, the landscape of Perfumeland has shifted. With L’Artisan Parfumeur bought up by the people who brought us One Million, the last nail in the coffin of the pioneering niche brands has been hammered in. To be fair, Puig does handle the unimpeachable Comme des Garçons, and L’Artisan hasn’t been properly helmed for years. Still, the brand founded by Jean-François Laporte in 1976 as a reaction to the ascendancy of marketing will become a marketing-driven brand. And in dispensing with Bertrand Duchaufour’s signature, the Catalan giant has purged the ur-niche house of its last shred of soul. Let’s just hope Puig doesn’t cull too many fragrances from the catalogue.
Of course, niche – the reason most of us became perfume geeks in the first place – is still thriving. In the list provided by the Fragrance Foundation France in view of the Experts’ Award at the 2016 French Fifis, I’ve counted over 350 launches – that’s just the stuff sold in France -- for 110 brands, a full third of which I’d never heard of. And more than a dozen of which put out 4 new scents or more in 2015: Atelier Cologne churned out a whopping 10 new juices, as did Jo Malone.
On the whole, in the limited number of things I did spend some time with, I admit I haven’t found anything that’s blown my stockings off. Still, there are a few launches I’ve loved, and one oldie I’ve (re)discovered. Here they are, in alphabetical order…
Ambre Cashmere Intense (Parfums de Nicolaï)
Amber can sit a little uneasily on the liver when expressed in all its fatty-waxy glory. Despite the scent’s “intense” qualifier, Patricia de Nicolaï delivers a deliciously Parisian – i.e. measured – interpretation of the note, dried up with iris and clove, and pricked with enough black pepper to open up the accord.
Cannibale (Serge Lutens)
I’ve been dithering about including one of Lutens’ new “Section d’Or” collection – one shouldn’t have to mortgage a kidney to smell good. Still, it’s hard to turn up your nose at scents that are so quintessentially Lutens. Like all the “Section d’Or”, Cannibale is of a denser, almost resinous olfactory texture than the “bell jar” or “export” collections. Charred rice powder and ashes of roses flutter over crackling incense tears… the cannibal in question may well refer to the alchemical process of digestion.
Cross of Asia (Orlov Paris)
In Cross of Asia, Dominique Ropion says he’s done for ylang – a notoriously difficult note to treat as a soliflore – what he’d done for tuberose in Carnal Flower. Up close, this seemingly straight-up floral is a compelling oddball that picks apart and reassembles all of the facets of ylang – including intriguing salty, rosy and green apple notes. For the time being, the Paris-based brand is only sold at Bergdorf Goodman in New York, but it’s well worth seeking out.
Olivier Polge’s first composition as Chanel’s new in-house perfumer is a deliciously retro take on the Paris violet-rose accord. Lipstick and fur on heated flesh: Chanel’s first perfume named after a woman not the founder is the brand’s most carnal offering to date.
Am I influenced by Nanban’s Asian inspiration? At the heart of Rodrigo Flores Roux’s chewy resinous incense and amber accord, I can pick out smoked plum – as though a bit of Femme had been steeped in traditional cuir de Russie.
Narciso (Narciso Rodriguez)
One of the few 2015 mainstream launches most of my French perfume blogger friends seem to agree about. To my nose, this creamy, gardenia-tinged cosmetic notes is on the same area of the scent-map as my beloved Ylang 49: a rose-vetiver axis that is faintly reminiscent of 70s chypres. I’ve been favoring the oil version, in which the vetiver stands out more distinctly.
With its splash of sap drizzling on a lick of honey, Bertrand Duchaufour’s take on daffodil reads like a color-saturated, baroque descendant of Jean-Louis Sieuzac’s masterful Dune: a northern interpretation of solar notes.
Tabac Tabou (Parfum d’Empire)
It was a bold move to launch a fragrance named after such a tabooed substance – but then, Marc-Antoine Corticchiato is one of the industry’s ballsiest noses. Matched with the hay and sap facets of narcissus, bolstered by the mulled-fruit lushness of immortelle, the scent is not about smoke or ashes but about the leaf.
Tellus (Liquides imaginaires)
Part of the “Eaux Arborantes” trilogy dedicated to trees – the brand’s best to date, to my nose – Nadège Le Garlantezec’s Tellus uproots facets of perfumery materials usually expunged from the palette. Smells of dank, mushroom, humus and dirt-smeared burrowing critters… It’s the nose gone to earth. Primeval and oddly comforting.
Timbuktu (L’Artisan Parfumeur)
Last (in alphabetical order) but not least… despite being a decade old, Bertrand Duchaufour’s interpretation of the Malian ritual of thiourayé was truly my scent of the year. I rediscovered it while researching African-themed fragrances for Citizen K International. Its vetiver backbone, slender as a blade of bison grass, holds up a grapefruit-to-smoke vertical structure as satisfying as the best white wines. And somehow, wearing it on alternate days with Mitsouko shed light on both scents, showing Timbuktu as a chypre and making the role vetiver plays in Mitsouko (in the current edp) more legible. Great perfumes, like all works of art, yield different readings over the years. Thus, my 2015 Timbuktu is not the one I knew in 2005. May 2016 bring many more such discoveries… And may Puig not discontinue this rare gem.
For more views on the best fragrances of 2015, please visit:
Illustrations: Anna Karina in stills from Jean-Luc Godard's Pierrot le Fou.
I'm profoundly sorry that 2015 has been such a bad year for France, (and many other parts of the world unfortunately). Still very glad that you did make a list of your favourites for this year. Gladder even to see a mention of Ambre Cashmere Intense which is a recent purchase and love for me. I find it downright addictive. I fully hope that 2016 may be a bit better than this past year!RépondreSupprimer
I do love that Nicolaï too -- you're right, it's addictive. Even my parents' big fluffy tabby loves it!RépondreSupprimer
I understand your reasons for 'cutting some slack' on the blog front, however, it's good to see you back. I still need to test Nanban, which sounds like it should be my thing, but Arquiste are one of the hard to come by brands around here.RépondreSupprimer
Hello Asali ! Yes, I would think you might enjoy Nanban, if I remember your tastes correctly. And thank you!Supprimer
YAY! Lovely to see you writing again Denyse. Can't wait to discover Orlov Paris in January.RépondreSupprimer
Hey Portia! Ironically, Orlov Paris is in talks with Parisian points of sale, but don't have any as of yet...But I *do* have samples. Looking forward!Supprimer
YAY! You always have the good stuff Denyse. It will be great to see you.Supprimer
Yes, 2015 has been a disturbing year in many respects. I hadn't realized that Bertrand Duchaufour was no longer signing for L'AP, but it's been a while since I've been eager for their releases.RépondreSupprimer
I'm very much looking forward to trying more of the perfumes on your enticing list. I liked Tabac Tabou very much, and it sort of restored my faith in the possibility of coming up with something really novel and deep with today's ingredients.
Another bright spot for me was Skive by Canoe Goods of Austin, Texas. This is a small line of modern leather goods hand crafted by Natalie Davis, who commissioned natural perfumer Jessica Hannah to create a perfume for the brand. I hope we see more from Jessica Hannah!
In terms of vintage perfumes, I found a bottle of Jean Couturier Kéora that is just so delicious. In terms of unaffordable crushes, I'll confess that mine is Roja Dove Diaghilev.
Above all, I'm wishing you health in 2016, Denyse. I've missed the blog and it's wonderful to see you back for this year end round-up! ~~nozknoz
Thank you for your kind words. I've never smelled Kéora -- I only know Coriandre by Jean Couturier. Intriguing! As for Diaghilev, why don't you break down and get the template instead: Mitsouko? Today's parfum version is quite wonderful, and to my nose better balanced that the Roja. But then, no one did it better than Jacques Guerlain. And I'm glad you love Tabac Tabou, it really impressed many journalists and bloggers when it was presented in September...Supprimer
I do have Mitsouko in various forms and vintages, but it seems much more austere on me than Diaghilev. I probably need to find the right weather match for it, and also wear it on a day when I have time to pay attention. ~~nozknozSupprimer
For some reason the Roja felt like a copy of Mitsouko when I smelled it, but with its proportions all skewed. It's one of the few scents that actually made me angry.Perhaps it's changed since I tried it at the Ballets Russes exhibition at the V&A...Supprimer
Yes, I've read that the current version is somewhat different from the original. It reminds me more of Amouage Jubilation 25 than anything else, but more animalic, lower level of aldehydes, no cumin that I can detect.Supprimer
Anyway, Denyse, I'm taking your wise words to heart and will make it my New Year's resolution to give Mitsouko her due this year and spend time with the various concentrations and vintages that I've been hoarding. Will report back next year! ~~nozknoz
It's lovely to hear your voice again, Denyse. I hope your health is improving. Narciso and Tabac Tabou are both on my personal best of 2015 list and I am desperate to smell the new Serge's and Cross of Asia.RépondreSupprimer
Maggie, I hesitated to mention the Orlov since it's so hard to find right now, but it's one of the things I found most interesting this year. I've almost drained my large sample!Supprimer
I'm glad you did. For some reason this has really caught my attention, and to know that you find it interesting whets my appetite even more.Supprimer
What a pleasure to see your words once again in the blogosphere! Do you write on perfume elsewhere so we can get our fix of your lovely prose when work and life take over again? Perfumewise I've spent 2015 a bit more focuses on what I've already got and working through some great samples from people like Vera Kern and Olfactive but also revisiting some more "mainstream" but harder to find perfumes when I'm in a big London store.RépondreSupprimer
Thank you Maureen! Alas, what little I've been writing about perfume is in French and not online.Supprimer
It's lovely to explore one's own collection, isn't it? Sometimes I just feel so guilty to be neglecting what's already on my desk or in my closet, when it's got so much more to say to me...
Happy new year Denyse and I wish you a very happy one. I have missed your writing so much !RépondreSupprimer
Sorry for going AWOL, and thank you! A happy new year to you too, Mimi.Supprimer
I am only now catching up with the blogs and am very happy to read your post for all sorts of reasons - mostly because I've missed your writing! Love your list - I absent mindedly sprayed the Ambre Cashmere when I was in the London PdN store before Christmas then spent a long while wondering who smelled so wonderful ;). I am still wrapping my nose around Tabac Tabou but am looking forward to some Spring weather when I will wear Ostara (a mini roll on purchased cheaply from TK Maxx - joy). However I just met Nanban a few days ago and was smitten. I keep telling myself it's nothing new, I've likely got a couple of similar scents already and yet the saffron and osmanthus tinged coffee/spice incense combo has me hooked.
Happy New Year - you and Paris deserve a much better one than last....
Dear Nicola, I'm not suprised so many of our picks coincide ! I'm having a mini Ambre Cashmere binge right now. It may not be the most searingly original scent in the world, but it's just so perfectly poised !Supprimer
An a happy new year to you too, with hugs,
Good to have news from you!RépondreSupprimer
Bonne année et bonne santée <3
I was wondering if you had turn the page on perfumes, left us, and started, whatever, a fitness blog called "gain de muscle" :D (a puny start for 2016)
Thank you Julien, and a happy new year to you too. Love the silly pun! In fact I *have* focused on fitness a lot more last year!Supprimer
Quelle joie de vous relire ! J'étais désespérée, puis je me suis fait une raison. Je suis revenue par hasard sur votre blog et là, quelle bonne surprise ! D'abord, permettez-moi de vous présenter tous mes voeux pour la nouvelle année. Ensuite, toutes mes excuses envers les lecteurs anglophones, je ne maîtrise pas les tournures écrites de la langue de Shakespeare...RépondreSupprimer
Merci en tout cas d'avoir évoqué Timbuktu. C'est mon coup de foudre de l'année 2015, il est en passe de devenir mon parfum fétiche. Je ne peux plus me passer de cet encens tribal adouci, je dirai même féminisé par une note crémeuse qui est due à je ne sais pas quoi, mais qui fait que je ne peux plus m'en passer. On parle plus facilement de Dzongkha, mais plus rarement de Timbuktu que je préfère nettement. Au plaisir de vous lire à nouveau
Bien à vous
Tout mes voeux à vous aussi ! J'essaierai de reprendre le blog plus régulièrement d'ici deux-trois semaines.Supprimer
Je suis ravie que vous soyez également une amoureuse de Timbuktu - c'est curieux que nous l'ayons redécouvert en même temps ! Vous avez raison, Dzongkha a plus de notoriété, je pense que c'est ce qui m'a empêchée de m'intéresser de plus près à Timbuktu à l'époque. Cet effet crémeux que vous évoquez, que je "lis" comme une note florale, équilibre parfaitement l'axe vétiver/encens. Peut-être l'apprécions-nous d'autant plus aujourd'hui qu'il se distingue encore d'une production de niche de plus en plus cliché...
Clare Obscure. Hi Denyse. 1st visit to your Grain de Musc blog. I've enjoyed your comments on 2015 perfumes and will be sampling a few you have mentioned. Love your style & hope you will find time and better health to continue with this blog as 2016 blooms into summer.RépondreSupprimer
Thank you Clare, and welcome to Grain de Musc! My health is now entirely back to normal, now it's just a matter of finding more time!Supprimer
Bonjour Denyse, je ne sais si je dois écrire en anglais ou en français cette fois...RépondreSupprimer
La rareté de vos articles rend ceux-ci de plus en plus précieux.
Je teste en ce moment Nanban d'Arquiste, et comme disent les américans, c'est un "head-turner".
Je trouve qu'il a un côté oud, par sa facette amère, cuirée, et animale.
Son kaleidoscope de couleurs: du violet fruité au marron foncé fumé!
Je le porte en plein été, mais jamais il ne brûle ni n'asphyxie, cela dit il doit être bien beau en hiver aussi.
Après réflexion, les Arquiste me semblent de beaux parfums, pas follement originaux non, ni des masterpieces, mais de belles choses qu'on peut qualifier de valeur sûres. (un bémol pour Architect's Club que je trouve trop répétitif de l'Eau Duelle)
Ciao Ciao, à bientôt peut-être
Bonjour Ghost7sam. Je suis d'accord avec vous sur Nanban, à la fois pour sa palette chromatique et pour ses connotations oudées... Quant à la rareté de mes billets, j'essaie d'y remédier: à partir du 15 août, je tenterai de publier une fois par semaine!Supprimer
merci pour votre réponse.
Ravi de l'apprendre ! :-)
J'apprends aujourd’hui que Arquiste justement sort bientôt un nouveau couple de parfums. Wait and see...
Je les ai déjà mais j'attends pour en parler qu'ils soient présentés à Florence en septembre... Disons seulement que j'adore le féminin, un chypre fruité un peu décadent 70s...Supprimer
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