Monday, December 29, 2014

Best Perfumes of 2014 (and some thoughts on the changing fragrance scene)

The time of the year has come again when we contemplate the past and venture into the future, every time hoping to be fledging ducklings and every year feeling the burden of experience weighting on our shoulders. Yet there's nothing like experience to make you get a better grip of reality and 2014 was a bumpy year for perfume in more ways than one.

via pinterest

They say misery loves company, but (happy) list-making also does, so for this project I'm working together with Persolaise and the Candy Perfume Boy, who will be posting their own reviews of the year's accomplishments.  Without further ado, please consult my own list of Best (& Worst) Perfumes of 2014 and musings. Nota bene that this particular list includes ONLY perfumes issued in the past year. All highlighted text takes you to linked articles/fragrance reviews. To compare with last year, take a look at my Best of 2013 Fragrance List. 

And don't forget to add your own opinions in the comments section below; I'd love to read them!

  • Best mainstream perfumes of 2014 (women's)

Narciso by Narciso Rodriguez
In a confusing game of names endlessly recycled the Narciso Rodriguez brand produces another abstract floral with a backbone of mossy synths that manage to amount to much more than the sum of its parts. Feels smooth & radiant like the first day of spring hitting cold, pied de poule goose-bumped limbs.

La Panthere by Cartier
The new, newly formulated perfume going by the classic name that was used in mid-90s for a fruity chypre (only the vintage went without the definitive article) is a very brave, modern foray into the floral chypre family. Technically solid and deliciously enjoyable. You can even lure classic chypre fragrance lovers with this one!

  • Worst mainstream perfumes of 2014 (women's & unisex)

Dolce eau de parfum by Dolce & Gabbana
Dull, almost imperceptible to the point of feeling like alcohol in water, blah. Don't be fooled by the very pretty commercial, your money can be invested elsewhere.

Limon Verde in Aqua Allegoria line by Guerlain
This accomplishes the dual feat of smelling trite and lasting for an hour tops. A disappointment from the AA line which had shaped up pretty well in recent years. Especially bad given that it was made with an eye on the huge Brazilian market and yet relying on a cliché. Tsk tsk tsk.

  • Best mainstream fragrance of 2014 (men's)

Bottega Veneta pour homme
Juniper and pine bring freshness to the rich accord of leather, patchouli and fir. Like its women's analogue, very sophisticated.

  • Worst mainstream fragrance of 2014 (men's)
Bleu de Chanel eau de parfum by Chanel
A mindless, purposeless flanker since the eau de toilette does the (mediocre to begin with) job better.

  • Most deserving best-seller 2014
Terracotta Le Parfum by Guerlain
A tropical floral like the house knows to make, injecting them with the finesse of creamy tuberose on a bed of soft solar notes, You can bet this limited edition will be around next summer too; it got crazy sales!

  • Best niche perfumes of 2014
Oeillet Bengale by Aedes de Venustas
A Catherine Earnshaw of a scent; fiery, feisty, festive (makes me unable to stop myself from alliterating). If you like spicy florals and lament the demise of carnation scents (Floris Malmais discontinuation, for instance?) give this a try.

Colonia Leather Eau de Cologne Concentrée by Acqua di Parma
The deliciousness of a tough, true leather coupled with a hint of a saturated, dried fruity note. Despite the "cologne" denominator, surprisingly tenacious. We've been spoiled. Gents this shouldn't be reserved for you only!

Mohur extrait de parfum by Neela Vermeire Creations
The gorgeousness of the Mohur eau de parfum multiplied and lightly further sweetened and deepened. A true diva!

Une Nuit Magnetique by The Different Company
A very smooth floriental, the way Christine Nagel excels at. Perhaps not immediately noteworthy, but satisfying.

  • Worst niche perfume of 2014
Santal Royal by Guerlain. A limited distribution fragrance, supposedly celebrating the iconic material. Someone managed to send me a smidgeon and I was utterly crestfallen; thin, wan, not even close.
  • Best All Naturals Perfumes of 2014 
(NB. that I have personally tried)

Palimpsest by Aftelier 
Mandy's best yet and that's saying everything.

Ivy Tower by Providence Perfume Co.
A really green scent, more difficult than it might seem when dabbling in all naturals.

Musk Malabi by Ayala Moriel Perfumes
A natural composed "musk fragrance" that conveys the note and its feel without using musk from the deer. A tinge of delicious succulence, a milky hint of dessert and rose and you're there. Very pretty!

  • Most wearable perfume of 2014
L'orpheline by Serge Lutens
I've emptied half a bottle since August, dear reader. That should tell you something, me with the endless rotation of perfumes to fall back on. It feels like my contemplative, little lost soul perched on the window sill looking unto happier scenes and for some odd reason I deeply enjoy that feeling.

  • Most outrageous prices for perfume in 2014
The Night (La Nuit) by Editions de Parfums Frederic Malle: a natural oud fragrance, $850 for 100ml.
L'incendiaire by Serge Lutens: Info on the fragrance linked here but wow, $600 for 100ml!
[We're talking standard bottles, not limited editions or anniversary ones or anything fancy otherwise, such as Guerlain do frequently.]

The prices in general are going up-Up-UP!!!!!!! In hindsight, refer to my 2011 article on the Perception & Marketing of Luxury.

  • Most Newsworthy Developments of 2014


  • Advertising Campaign of the Year
Chanel No.5 with Gisele directed by Baz Luhrmann. Whatever one can say (and I said quite a bit in the link) it's front page news in the glossies. Even before the new Dior J'Adore 2014 commercial, because Chanel No.5 is so iconic.
My humble view is they could do better (the Night Train commercial with Audrey Tautou was dreamier and more engaging, although even than couldn't match the era of Jacques Helleu art-directed advertising), but they could also do much much worse (see the Brad Pitt Chanel fiasco), so...we'll take small mercies where we find them.

  • Best discovery of the year
The Pell Wall artisanal perfumes brand. Surprised at the quality for such decent prices.

The Aesthetic Principle. The principle I'm stuck with, for good. Highly recommend you get to be too.

  • Professional adventure of 2014
Joining About.com as their Fragrance Expert. You can follow me at Fragrance.About.com and subscribe to the Newsletter for free (it goes out once a week).

Please visit Persolaise and the Candy Perfume Boy for more Best of 2015 lists. And share your own lists or views in the comments, if you like!


  1. I.D.Adam14:22

    Thanks for recognizing Chris Bartlett (Pell Wall Perfumes). He's a fellow basenoter and one of the most knowledgeable and helpful perfumers around.

  2. Fiordiligi16:55

    Dearest E, thank you for such a thoughtful and comprehensive summary, and it goes without saying that I agree entirely regarding the Guerlains!

    I would like to mention my absolute favourite from the natural/niche genre this year, which is Dawn Spencer Hurwitz's gorgeous Scent of Hope, which I am sure you will have tried.

    Happy New Year xxx

  3. I.D.Adam,

    thanks for commenting. I knew him by reputation from Basenotes, but never actually tried his perfumes and the experience sealed the hunch.
    It's great to see indies doing well. :-)

  4. Dearest D,

    thank you for taking the time to read and comment.

    The Guerlains are something that needed mention since they're doing the two-pronged approach (and justifiably one would guess).

    Don't recall the DSH, I need to go through my samples "rollodex" again. Thank you for bringing this to my attention!

  5. Ah, another fan of L'Orpheline! I was really taken with it too.

    Thanks for a great list, and another year's worth of scented reading :-)

  6. D,

    it's so snuggly, that orphan girl, isn't she? I don't know, it's such a polarizing scent on the boards/fora, people expected something else I guess (something very deep, ambery, dried fruits perhaps), but I feel it's something that one could wear any time, any day, in any setting and feel a certain way, a way that is simpatico to me musks and all. I consider it a success.

    Thank you for reading and for your own erudite list as well! (will comment separately on it)

  7. Anonymous23:08

    La Panthère de Cartier is my new staple in my fragrance wardrobe. I love leather chypres such as Courreges Empreinte but they're so hard to find and hard to wear. La Panthère is a great modern take on classic chypres.

    Happy New Year!


  8. Anonymous23:10

    Not only did I go through 3 bottles of Bottega V (w) but I really like the model for the men's version. And I love L'Orpheline in a different way - it makes me feel sad and contemplative - which reminds me to finish my painting of the mental image the first smell gave me.

    I hope your blog remains the same. I hate the "blogs"cropping up that are thinly disguised adverts. When I realize I have wasted my time reading an advert, I feel stupid & in the long run *less* likely to try the product because of the dishonesty. So maybe it will all sort itself out.

    Happy New Year!


  9. Emma,

    thanks for taking the time to place a comment!

    I quite agree that for a modern chypre (a very elusive beast, you must content!) they did an awfully good job at Cartier. It strikes the perfect balance between old time glamour and contemporary wearability. And it's neither "too mossy" nor not enough. It reminds me of the good job done on EL Jasmin White Moss which was a good take on a "greener" chypre. La Panthere is perhaps more "femme".

    Thank you for the good wishes and may I take the opportunity to wish you myself for everything your heart desires this year! :-)

  10. Isabella,

    thanks for commenting and for the vote of confidence on what I do here. :-)

    The BV (w) is such a great thing that it single-handedly revamped my interest in mainstream releases when it got out. Up till then I was too skeptical, but it paved the way. La Panthere is a good follow-up, less dried fruits and leather, more floral chypre, but in the right direction. I do believe we will see more of this sophisticated genre of fragrances for women.
    As to the model for the BV (m) he's not a bad sight! ;-)

    The expansion of the Internet has created its own rules, one of them being that the big conglomerates are trying to sway voices and influence. It can be subtle or it can be more forceful and aggressive but it's happening. It's too big a pie not to have players vying for big chunks!

    Happy new year up north!

  11. Brainfodder22:15

    Oeillet Bengale - mmmm... addictive!

    I think all my christmases came at once in the latest batch of samples I ordered - Oeillet Bengale, Trayee, Mohur, Phi. A little late to the perfume party, but I've had a quality festive season of scents.

  12. Brainfodder,

    sounds like it indeed!

    happy new year and enjoy!

  13. I loved the new Narciso actually and recieved it as a gift for my birthday, I have been using it, but then I got my hands on a full 100ml bottle of vintage Femme by Joop ( from 1990) in september and the bottle came in my rotation of Flowerbomb Extreme, Kenzo Jungle Elephant, Roma and Vanilla Noir.


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