Monday, December 29, 2008

A 2008 Retrospective

The end of the year is always a time of contemplation: summing up what happened, what left its indelible mark and what could have gone better. This is true in all things and more so when one is compiling a list for publishing purposes such as happens here. Theoretically, this recap should serve as a history lesson in not repeating the same mistakes and helping map out a better and more fruitful new year. Arguably, as per Hegel, "we have never learned anything from history, or acted on principles deducted from it " [1] however, which is so painfully true for the fragrance world and the luxury section in general. But let's not dampen our spirits just yet! Perhaps as evidenced before someone is paying attention, so here's to a better 2009.
The Perfume Shrine, along with a group of esteemed independent perfume bloggers participating, decided to publish some musings on 2008 and its fragrant twists and turns. So here are mine.

Something is rotten at the kingdom of Fragland?
To take things at the top, the main problem is there are too many fragrance launches. I mean, they're like rice grains as a reward on a chess board in some ancient tale or microbes on a petri-dish: one is not having an embarassement of riches anymore, but an embrassement full-stop. I know I am not the only one who has become jaded after all this time watching one after another announce the new miraculous composition that will incidentally both cure AIDS and end world hunger while making us smell fabulous. It's hard to get surprised any more, I guess. Still, the latest Serge Lutens ~which my friend Denyse was first to spread the news of~, the upcoming Hermessence and the newest Annick Goutal have managed to create some palpitations to my -otherwise- lukewarm heart. I'd hate to be disappointed and it's rather late to plead with the companies and the perfumers to please not mess with my heartstrings (they're all coming out in January, so we'll find out soon enough), so I am merely extending my wishes for something if not magnificent and earth-shattering, at least interesting enough.
It's worthwhile to note that amidst what is generally referenced as the worst recession since 1989, the hyper-luxe companies, such as By Killian, state that they have not noticed a decline in their turnover. Sibyllic...

Everyone is an Expert
When "Perfumes the Guide" erupted at the end of last March like a Godzilla-sized "menace" (?) on the front of thirsty lands (the perfume-discussing ones, I mean), suddenly a whole stampede of people nodding their heads energetically started quoting bits and pieces in order to justify their personal preferences; while another group of people were actively voicing their opposition questioning the validity of those opinions in that book in not so polite terms. The phenomenon left us with something of the weird mix of mirth, sarcasm and pained empathy. (Surely the authors were entitled to their opinions, weren't they? I thought they were).
Never before has such a small world taken itself at such breadth of importance! It was like watching Tim Burton's "Mars Attacks" with lots of popcorn. It was almost certain the authors would intellectually appreciate the crassness of Gaultier's Ma Dame. So what? You don't have to wear it! I doubt they're advocating that you should! They're simply evaluating its lack of pretence (good thing).
Yet suddenly the ratio of traditional press articles quadrupled with some quite original and serious and some hilarious results! Suddenly fragrance writing became big business. And although one could trace this last bit all the way back to The New York Times appointing Chandler Burr a scent critic a couple of years ago, this year's evolution has shown that starting one's own site or writing a piece for a newspaper leaves all the holes of one's semi-knowledge free for filling with fresh air. I am personally enjoying the wide selection ~when before did news circulate so quickly, as to make the new exclusive, moderately-priced Comme des Garcons sell out of stores carrying it in one day?~ that this development has given us, but I am urging you to judge with your best analytical and rational criterion while reading. (Obviously everyone has their own opinion, but not every journalist knows some facts).

Intriguing Trends I Noticed
Speaking of wishful thinking for 2009, I noticed that already 2008 brought a handful of things that raised my antennae to the direction of Interestville. Namely, the new direction for woody fragrances for women, the widening of selection of florals for men, and the ressurgence of melon notes through non-Calone [2]-using ways. A handful of genuinely intriguing trends emerged.

Woody fragrances are nothing new, but it seems that they have caught the eye of the makers of feminine fragrances: Sensuous by Estée Lauder, Magnifique for Lancome and Secret Obsession by Calvin Klein. From the predictability of the first to the hypersweet distortion-of-facts of the second and to the spicy austerity of the third (which I prefer out of the three, if pressed), I was pleased to witness a new trend coming, after what seemed like a tsunami of fruity florals and an oversimplification of modern chypres. May they continue (but with better compositions please)!

Floral touches for men took over where the pioneer marketing of Dior Homme had left: the metrosexual of 2008 is not afraid to wear his heart flower at his sleeve and go for Kenzo Power or Prada Infusion d'Homme. Then again, he can always fall back on Polo Modern Reserve by Ralph Lauren and its butch retro-machismo!

Melon and aquatic notes have been anathema for a whole (young) generation who grew up lisping "niche" and shopping at Aedes and Luckyscent with all the gusto of a card-holding dot.com progeny. Well, there's nothing like an old trend coming over for revenge and it seems like three 2008 releases are having a laugh at ou expense, admonishing us to shed our preconceptions and stop being annoyingly snobbish: Jean Claude Ellena did it first with Un Jardin Après la Mousson for Hermès and his daughter Céline followed with Sublime Balkiss for The Different Company, while Bertrand Duchaufour is continuing the laughter behind our backs with the river-like Fleur de Liane for L'artisan Parfumeur.

And then, there was Dans Tes Bras for F.Malle. Interesting to be sure.

My Coups de Foudre!
Then again there were some straight-arrow shoots who came up with things I loved immediately: a couple have even won pride of place in my ever-overspilling bottle collection! I feel for the honeyed apricots soaked in spices of El Attarine as soon as I smelled a sample. I came to love the somber, cool and warm antithesis of Serge Noire. Serge Lutens has largely redeemed himself in my eyes for the rather unoriginal latest releases of previous years. He has earned a grace period.
Chanel has also come up with a true rose-cut-like gem (Sycomore in Les Exclusifs line), a graceful if a little too pretty for its own good twin-set of a scent (Beige in Les Exclusifs) and a genuinely modern interpretation of an iconic milestone (No.5 Eau Premiere). Well done!
Suprisingly, Guerlain has produced only one modern fragrance this year that I liked in a year that was scattered with vintage acquisitions for me: Cruel Gardenia. But don't be fooled by the name, because it smells neither cruel nor gardenia-like (and I doubt they intended it to be either!). Still, this soapy prettiness has crept up on me. Don't get me started on Les Elixirs Charnels/ Carnal Elixirs though. Just don't!

Personal Growth
This year has been fulfilling on a personal level as related to my work here on Perfume Shrine and to my capacities as a fragrance writer and consultant. I have learned a lot of new things (for a constant student like myself, I have still lots of ground to cover though!), have expanded my horizons conversing with professionals who have taken an active interest in Perfume Shrine and am ready to relay my adventures with people who have a genuine passion for the art of perfumery. On top of that, in what started as a panicked attempt to salvage whatever I could out of a fragrance world that is constantly changing and rationing perfumery ingredients, thus creating a shortage in beauty, I finally managed to obtain some rare vintage collectibles which have graced my collection and have touched my historian's soul: Pour Troubler, Djedi, Fleur de Feu, Atuana, Ode, Liu (all by Guerlain, click to read reviews), Dior-Dior, Shiseido Nombre Noir, Lanvin Scandal...I am deeply thankful for the journey they have taken me on.
Last but not least, I have cemented a true rapport with my loyal readers, my guest writers and my perfume community friends and for that I am truly honoured.

Don't forget to check out what other bloggers have to say when recapping 2008 in their own words:

1000 fragrances
Ars Aromatica,
A Rose Beyond the Thames
Bittergrace Notes,
Grain de Musc,
I Smell therefore I Am,
Notes from the Ledge,
Savvy Thinker,
Smelly Blog (and her "best of" list)
The Non Blonde
and Tuilleries.

[1]approximate quote, Hegel referred to goverments.
[2]Calone is the sregistered name of a ynthetic aroma-material that dominated the 90s fragrances with its aquatic green melon note.


  1. Anonymous04:22

    Best wishes for a very happy 2009!

  2. Hey, thanks for the enjoyable read! I kinda liked the kerfuffle around The Guide, although like you I couldn't understand why the writers weren't entitled to their opinion, which by necessity isn't going to be in sync with everyone.

    I see you share my welcome of non-fruit-salad scents in the mainstream market. I really liked Secret Obsession, to be honest, although I didn't buy it.

  3. Arwen,

    thank you and I am extending those wishes your way. May 2009 be everything you desire!

  4. March,

    hi there! Thank you for stopping by and commenting and hope your Christmas was enjoyable, loving and restful.

    Yeah, the Guide seemed to be a hot topic and it was good having an actual publication being talked about at such lengths. I am surely hoping the industry is taking notice of our concerns, the autjprs' -justifuable- questionning and the always popular demand for good things at reasonable prices. *am I wishing for too much, here?*

    Secret Obsession was rather nice, I agree. I might progress to the smallest bottle if they have it available at a discount in the future.

    Oh and I have had the most hilarious rapport with Le Labo. Priceless. (agree with you the last ones were rather good)

  5. Hello! thanks very much for organising this. I really enjoyed your thoughts. I agree about the guide, while I don't agree with all the opinions expressed I think they have every right to their thoughts! Plus I just love their little comments and the humour in their reviews.
    I look forward to reading Perfumeshrine in 2009. I'm sure it will be thought provoking and interesting as ever.

  6. Thanks K, you're very kind, as always. Considering I managed to make a typo in such a simple word as "authors" in my above comment :/

    I did laugh out loud with many little bits in the book. :))

  7. Mike Perez17:54

    Great end of the year report Helg - here's to a GREAT 2009!

    My greats: Serge Noire, Jubilation XXV, Hinoki & Roadster! Well..along with 'discovering' Iris Silver Mist and Mitsouko vintage parfum.

    My wish for the new year: More time, less fragrance releases. :)


  8. Dear Helg,
    The number of launches represented a difficult challenge for me too. But I do think that this will increase even more. It's just that fragrance industry is transforming like other industries did it well before. I compare it to fashion (because I know it well and worked inside). If 10 years ago after a fashion week I had all the names and collections in my head and I could draw everything, now in Paris I struggle to be up to date every week but I still find things that I do not notice. I believe that fragrance industry will enter in a phase similar with music or litterature - a huge amount of information and products that will not allow a global view.

  9. Oh my goodness, E! You made up for the lack of truly original releases this year with your vintage acquisitions! And, they all sound beautiful.

    A very Happy New Year to you. Thank you for your intelligent reviews and commentary on all things fragrant.


  10. Helg, you have outdone yourself, both with your own post and organizing the other sites. And I am drooling over your vintage finds! However, there are some new ones you have mentioned I would be just as excited about, such as El Attarine, which sounds fabulous.

    2008 was nothing if not eventful, as a whole and in the perfume world. At least we're never bored!

  11. Mike,

    thanks for stopping by! Here's to a great fragrant 2009. I thought this year wasn't that bad, really. And I agree with you on your highlights (as to the vintages, well, you well know my feelings on those you mention! :-))

  12. Octavian,

    don't I sympathize! You have been exposed to fashion for so long that your comment feels me with a certain trepidation for the fragrance world: On the one hand it's nice that fragrance should join the ranks of music or literature; on the other hand, with so much diversification and vertical segretation, it's exceedingly hard to even become aware of what is going on at any given time.
    I think the time comes that even the bubble bursts or we will be all out of the loop considering new releases :/

  13. Anonymous12:30

    Brave post considering people might get annoyed by your comments about the industry, but I believe you are not so much interested about that, are you, having established your bonds as you say. I'm left wondering what you think about the reformulations since it's known by everyone now how many lies we're being fed, I believe you had posted about them before, but it's not over yet, you know, happens all the time is what I'm saying.

  14. R,

    thank you for saying such complimentary things and a most wonderful new year to you as well! :-)

    Indeed, although I feel that this year has been rather good in new releases (compared to years past at least) and I certainly found a few that I really loved, it was especially gratifying to fill in my collection of vintage acquisitions. The rare chance of happening upon an antique find that is truly great is not to be bypassed.

    I feel that having a library of scents spanning different decades is always a good reference for the evolution of both aesthetic criteria and materials' control.

  15. F,

    thank you sweetie for your kind support. Indeed I urge you to find a little El Attarine: people have been complaining about the cumin (predictably about a Lutensian scent, I fear; myself I am enjoying the cumin!), yet if you smell past that you realize just how good it is. I had an assistant's small daughter smelling a strip of it on my desk and she immediately exclaimed how beautiful it is!

    I think every year brings out some kind of event/drama in the perfume world. Why is that might constitute food for thought. It is never dull, though, as you say! ;-)

  16. Aline,

    thanks for stopping by and commenting. And for the compliment.
    I haven't really feared any repurcussions because there has been complete transparency over how I run things here.
    As to reformulations, I do realise it's not over, of course; but it's getting a little tiresome to lament about them all the time. If there is some fragrance that has been severely butchered, I compare it in various stages while reviewing. Some reformulations are not that atrocious however, it's not a "blanket" practice. I could bring some examples if you want.

  17. What a great retrospective! Original concept and great participation from what I see.

    The thing that irked me most in 2008 was seeing so many classics not smelling like they're supposed to be, to the point I'm never sure what I am reading on the forums and blogs is what I am smelling in the store. What you guys are reviewing always seems to be different than what I get my hands on. I am not saying this to belittle your beautiful writing, but to indicate a chasm between old formulas and newer ones. It makes for a lot of disappointment.

    What was most enjoyable to me for 2008 was discovering the Amouage line, Le Dix, L'interdit, Eau de Guerlain. Those were all great discoveries.

  18. Thank you Sue! :-)

    I think what you're experiencing is that I have got hold of some vintage juice and there is a difference with the newer stuff. I think this also happens with other reviewers. I try to point out what each version smells like.
    However please note that I have heard aboutb even geographical differences (US-packed Chanel vs. France-packed Chanel), so anything is possible.

    What great discoveries: worthy of mention, all of them. Enjoy!!

  19. Hello E, happy new year! I am just getting to read a few of the scent blogs and coming back to earth, and I have enjoyed yours the most! Lots of interesting politically incorrect thoughts and observations about where we are now, in perfume and in relation to the crazy world we are in.

    Brava for your independent ideas and way of expressing them, I look forward to more in 2009! And I am inspired by you to blog about 2008, thanks for the reminder!

    Wishing you an ever expanding creative and stimulating private universe for 2009. OXOX

  20. Hi dear W! Happy new year to you and welcome back!

    You honour me saying those most kind words. I'll do my best.
    Will go read your thoughts too!
    My best wishes for 2009 as well and I have an e-mail I owe you which I haven't forgotten.


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