Tuesday, December 28, 2010

2010 perfume recap: The Best (& Worst) in Scent

What is the end of the year without summarising lists? And what is the end of a year in the fragrance industry no less without comprising a "best of" (and worst of) of sorts? To that end, a select team of bloggers brought our minds together to bring you opinionated verdicts on what you should not miss and what you might as well be spared when passing the perfume counter or browsing on your laptop.
For clarity's sake, my own list comprises only releases from 2010 (with one exception), not things I might have discovered this year which were issued previously. That doesn't mean I consider the following the "best of" in all perfumery in general (and I'm well known for sticking to favourites no matter when issued), just the best -and worst- in 2010.

Perfume of the Year: Absolue pour le Soir by Maison Francis Kurkdjian.Perfectly balanced between "dirty" and perfume-y, like perfumes of yore with its alliance of ylang ylang, honeyed rose and scads of cumin, it curiously draws upon a retro "skankiness" that's not really vulgar, more lived-in; like the precarious equilibrium a certain Mediterranean lady keeps between the mysticism and languor of the East and the rationality of the West in her own heart of hearts.
Beware skank-o-phobics! It can be intense.

Perfumer of the year: It must have been Bertrand Duchaufour's year.I don't know whether it's through bloggers' promotion or simply overindustriousness (Amaranthine -technically from end of 2009- and Sartorial for Penhaligon's, Nuit de Tubereuse and Traversee du Bosphore for L'artisan), but it seemed like he was everywhere this past while. Not that he doesn't deserve it, mind you.

Best feminine fragrance (department store circuit): Sensuous Noir by Estee Lauder
Best masculine fragrance (department store circuit):
Voyage d'Hermès by Hermès
It's difficult to make something worthwhile in the tsunami of thousands of releases that will -fatefully- be discounted in 6 months' time at consignment shops. These two are solidly built (one on patchouli, the other on woody aqueous musk), not wildly differentiating themselves, but very pleasant, lasting and with a whiff of intelligence built in.

Best Shared niche fragrance: Sartorial by Penhaligon's.
I do prefer Duchaufour's work in Amaranthine for the same brand though, only that one is much more feminine. Sartorial with its honyed, waxy lavender and patchouli is as suave as Terence Stamp in his 1960s days, with a reassuring expectancy.

Best fragrance under 50$US: Fleur Chérie by L'Occitane.
A fresh and airy interpretation of neroli & orange blossom on a bed of cedar and blackcurrant to bring forth happy thoughts in the dead of winter. Available online.

Best Limited editon: Arsène Lupin Dandy by Guerlain.It's not poised to be a limited edition, but something tells me it will be short-lived, nonetheless. A very refined soft leather for men, ready to be snatched by women as well.

The fragrance I loved (and wore) most: Boxeuses by Lutens.The icy sensuality of Bas de Soie is also quite fetching, but with Boxeuses Serge and Sheldrake revisit at last their favourite territory of the souk and the polished hides on the walls of a Berber dwelling which I had missed. Spices, candied fruits and the backdrop of nubbuck. A special someone finds this scent terribly sexy on a certain dark-haired historian and who is fool enough to argue with that?

Best new fragrance concept: If Womanity by Mugler had managed to reconcile the savoury with the sweet in a less strange and loud summation, we'd be talking about the surest trend to follow shortly on a perfume counter near you. I still believe we're to see more in this vein, only I hope more polished and assured next time.

In memoriam (discontinued): The disappearence of Bulgari Black from the UK market. It's still available in other European countries nevertheless and there is no official word on its eclipsing from production. Attrape Coeur (formely known as Guet Apens) is definitely missing in action, as we had announced almost a year now. Shame...
Worst News of the Year: Belle d'Opium signaling the death toll on the original Opium, thinned out from reformulations to the point that it's become Whitney Port where it used to be a zaftig Catherine Zeta Jones.

Trend we can do without: Need I spell it out? A-m-b-r-o-x-a-n.Dear perfumers, I get it: It's a shortcut for you, it provides the backbone you are denied by all those IFRA restrictions, it's practical and stable, it can even be nice sometimes, but please: Sufficing a composition with ambrox/ambroxan isn't going to make a proper perfume. Why is everything from Baie Rose 26 and Another 13 both by Le Labo to Juliette has a Gun Not a Perfume have to be based on it now?

Best celebrity scent: I don't really follow celebrity scents sampling-wise (my loss, you might argue). I still wear Lovely by Sarah Jessica Parker which is the best celebrity fragrance this side of the eponymous Catherine Deneuve in my books.

Most ridiculous celebrity for a scent: Paris Hilton channeling Marilyn Monroe (she wishes) for the launch of her latest scent. Now I've seen it all.

Best Buzz: Andy Tauer generates the greatest niche buzz every year. Is it any wonder?
This year he repackaged his entire line, issued new fragrances, he launched a new website and immersed himself into a good cause: promoting art in perfumery.
I was also pleased to see the Vero Kern line of Eaux de Parfum reach the States finally. Rubj is particularly stellar and Vero herself does nothing by halves.

Best Ad: 2010 hasn't been particularly memorable on the visual front: The last exciting perfume commercials I recall have been Chanel No.5 with Tautou (2009), Midnight Poison with Eva Green (2007) and Miss Dior Chérie by Sofia Copolla (2008). Bleu de Chanel directed by Scorcese is all right (mainly for its atmospheric use of blue as a reflection on the fragrance's name and flacon), but still not thrilling or imaginative enough (and don't get me started on the completely lukewarm fragrance itself!).

Worst Ad: Bang by Marc Jacobs.An oilied up Jacobs is posing with his legs apart hidden behind a giant bottle "banged" by a fireshot? If this is a pick up line, it's the crudest I have ever set eyes on. Pass me the barf bag, please.

Best Natural Scent: Light by Anya's Garden is exactly what its name implies: In a word, luminous.

Favorite Flacon: I'm not much of a fangirl for elaborate perfume bottles, prefering the architectural sparsity of Lutens, The Different Company, Chanel Les Exclusifs, Hermessences etc, but I kinda dig the latest Agonist Liquid Crystal eau de parfum flacon. It looks like some fungus life form preserved in formaldehyde on Holmes' desk while the rest of the tubes are bubbling merrily and it never misses to make me lean and observe more closely for clues as to what it contains. So weird, it's a classic!

I would have liked to see more of: Green, green, green.
For some reason, in a time when green is the byword in the cosmetics and skincare industry, it's sorely lacking in the perfumery business. Issey Miyake A Scent was a good effort, but its commercial flop was kinda disappointing. The leathery trend (see Boxeuses & L'Heure Fougeuse in "Les Heures de Parfum" for Cartier, by Mathilde Laurent) is having me enraptured.

Best name of a fragrance company: Odin never fails to make me think of Scandinavian mythology. If only they hadn't attached the New York moniker right after it...

Best Flanker: I'm possibly cheating with this one (as "flanker" is industry speak for a fragrance which reprises the name and design of a previous best-seller to introduce a quite different scent with minimal change in name, rather than a different concentration) but Parfums Caron, probably the world's most unprobable creator of flankers, has scored: Parfum Sacré Intense is capitalising on Jean-Pierre Béthouard's 1990 original Parfum Sacré (itself a study on an older Caron scent, Or et Noir) and made a beguiling spicy oriental of clove-strewn rose to lose your heart into. I certainly have.

Rising Star of 2010: "Outlaw" perfumers doing what they darn please irrespective of perfumery restriction, just for the heck of it. It was about time...

Don't forget to visit the other participating blogs in their best & worst 2010 lists:
Ca Fleure Bon, Olfactarama, Mais Que Perfume.


  1. Anonymous06:06

    Great list! The new year will see me hunting down Parfum Sacré Intense :)

  2. Great list! I am really not much of a Francis Kurkdjian fan, but I loved Absolue pour le Soir. Bertrand Duchafour really did put out an amazing amount in the past year. In addition to Amaranthine, I would also add Al Oudh from the end of last year, which was probably my most-worn scent of this past year.

    I'm afraid I was somewhat of a sucker for ambroxan, though, loving Portrait of a Lady (my vote for best of the year) and M/Mink.

  3. A great list, full of wonderful "homework" tasks for the curious among us to find out more about.
    Just a comment I can't deny myself: So funny that you, too, roll your eyes (and reach for the barf bag) as regards Marc Jacobs. "Live and let live", one could say; the guy can do what he wants. But I just can't help but ask why he felt anybody needed to see him naked and oiled, esp. as promotion for a fragrance. Was the midlife crisis getting that bad? It would seem so. The worst thing is: The incense-based fragrance is actually quite nice, surprisingly so, albeit with no "BANG!" about it whatsoever and nothing original. Anyway, the mind boggles at marketing extremes.

    Happy New Year, Helg! Here's looking forward to many more erudite insights on theses pages.
    All the best,

  4. Love this list, E! I haven't tried nearly enough of them.

    I did sample Bang, tho, and really liked the scent. I also agree wholeheartedly with your assessment of the totally tacky photo used for the ad.

  5. Go Outlaw Perfumers! Just remember to add a little warning if your perfumes contain traces of nuts.

  6. I am complete accord with your characterization of Pour le Soir...though heaven knows it took my slow processing self a while to get there. I couldn't get through the "dirty" the first couple of times, because it is unapologetically there, and as a result, I think I too hastily steeled myself for a whallop without being open to the entire.

    I am open now. Lovely stuff.

    You break my heart where I thought it could not be broken--Deneuve and Attrape Coeur. {tear trickles down cheek} I love both creatures, so different from each other, yet each their own deep beauty.

    Boxeuses. Still working on that one. I suspect my gardener's brain is still mad at it for not being green, a la "boxwod." No fair, I know. But add in my apparent susceptibility to first impressions (see Absolue pour le Soir) and my dullard's treatment of a non-native language, and...violins! there you go.

    Bravo for Andy, indeed. I am hoping for some good dialogue on the topic of perfume as art in 2011.

    And speaking of 2011's...wishing you the best in the new year, with thanks for your contributions to the happinesses and learnings of 2010.

  7. (...that would be "where my heart could not be broken again"...I have sighed over their departure many a time...)

  8. What a fantastic list...can't wait to find the Lutens Boxeuses. And I so agree about the sad demise year-by-year of the wonderful old Opium.

  9. Hello, darling !
    Enjoying all your thoughts and opinions...
    [we ADORE our Absolue, do we not ???;D]
    Wishing you every blessing in the new year !

  10. I completely agree with you about the lack of green fragrances these days. Too many fruity-florals, orientals, patchoulis and vanillas (and, of course, acquatics)... but green fragrances are generally forgotten, and I love them.

    Issey Miyake A Scent is a little jewel of perfume.

  11. Anonymous18:04

    Hi E!

    Love, love, love your right-on description of Absolue Pour le Soir! *****it curiously draws upon a retro "skankiness" that's not vulgar; ****** Perfect!

    I really enjoyed your blog post today. :)



  12. I had to laugh at the Bang ad -- it reminded me of an over-done (if that is more possible) Tom Ford ad (remember the one!)

  13. Glad to see the Absolue Pour le Soir getting some love! It's pretty amazing- if there were ever a scent that I came close to being in a monogamous relationship with, this would be the one.

  14. Thanks Dee!

    You should definitely try PSI out: it's so deep and rich it's intoxicating!

  15. F/G,

    Francis really pulled out all stops when it came to Absolue, didn't he? He was so tentative with the initial line-up and then, whoah! this skank-fest that is so very fetching!

    I'm marvelling at the industriousness of Bertrand: How can he do it all and be a family man too? He must sleep very little! :D

    As to Ambrox, don't get me wrong: it's not a bad material per se, but the trend of touting it as the "end all" lately is giving me pause. I still haven't tried Mink and I know I should: I hear its mineral facets combined with the ambrox make for something novel.

  16. Michael,

    aw, such kind words, thank you! I hope you find worthy specimens to try out and a most merry new year to you too!

    Yeah, I thought all right, Marc can do as he pleases, it's his right, he's the one to get the flack anyway, sure, but...but...isn't this imagery completely passé in what regards flaunting one's sexuality? I thought the community was past that (of course, what do I know, really? So I'm certainly accepting corrections). He used to be considered "quirky chic" in his fashion sense and he didn't pursue a vulgar aesthetic in his previous perfume displays, while this is rather "pornfumery" IMHO.
    As to the scent, sure, it's not bad. But I'd rather take Poivre Samarkande (which it follows closely) myself.

  17. Rosarita,

    thanks, hope you get to try most (all?) of them and get back to let me know impressions.

    Bang isn't half bad, a thinner Poivre Samarkande perhaps as I said to Michael above, which makes it all the more odd that such a sexed up pic is accompanying it, as there is absolutely no correlation of smell and image. At least I think there's not. :/

  18. Mark,

    LOL, you got that right!! Yup, a big label saying "this perfume might produce genuine euphoria through banned suspected allergens" might be recommended.

  19. S,

    thank you for your wonderful wishes and please accept my own heartfelt wishes for the new year as well. It's enriching to have readers and cyberfriends such as you.

    You have a perfect point on Absolue: I think people might get intimidated by its combustive nature at first, perhaps dismissing it as too opulent, too "dirty", too tenacious at first? And it needs its time to settle and draw you closer. It would be a shame to think that it might lose fans on a very quick cursory judgment.

    Andy is preparing all sort of interesting things, so be prepared.

    As to Boxeuses, ah, the privileges of being a foreigner with a completely unassociated linguistic branch of language: There is never any association for me in any English or French word but their proper ones, which is both a blessing and a curse. Boxwood never even entered my mind until you mentioned it here! You do need to retry that one, I insist. It's more suave than Cuir Mauresque and it has that glorious dried fruit-compote aspect that the original Feminite has. I find it very cuddly.

  20. Oh, it's never good to hear of a perfume one loves being discontinued, but with thousands of releases each year, I think we're bound to see that phenomenon more and more in the coming years. It's statistically impossible to keep everything in production. Inevitably, some people will be heart-broken in the process (and I sympathize whole-heartedly).

  21. Thank you for stopping by and commenting Deborah and hope you like it here.

    Boxeuses has an aspect that is really fetching: the butch touch of leather mollified by some dried fruit and spice notes, it reminds me of a certain intriguing androgyny, like in some Helmut Newton photography (the one with the woman in a man's suit kissing up to another woman).
    The old Opium....it breaks my heart completely! This was my (several people's) signature scent, how can they do this???

  22. Dearest Ida,

    hello there honey! I enjoyed all your entries as well (I might as well pop over and write that down)

    I think there's something on our "exotic" skin that makes all those skanky stuff behave really well. It's uncanny how we faultlessly love those things each and every time! ;-)

    Hugs to you, precious and may 2011 be the best ever yet for you and your loved ones!

  23. Isa,

    isn't it odd? As you say, every other genre has a presence, even in attenuated form (where are the gutsy orientals?), but not greens.
    I think it has to do with some restrictions, as in artemisia, galbanum, oakmoss etc. but it might also had to do with market focus groups and I hate that thought!
    It's a pity that Miyake didn't do well with A Scent because the follow up (A Scent Eau Florale) is pure fabric softener with the price tag of a perfume. :(

  24. Dawn,

    honey! Hey there, thank you!!

    I absolutely love those "skanky" things (I don't really find them "dirty", am I weird?) and Absolue is cream of the crop, isn't it? Such a glorious perfume, so sexy!

    Glad you enjoyed the posting, happy to provide pleasure :-)


  25. Karin,

    oh, the MJ one is good for a laugh due to the "pornfumery" association, while the TF one was bordering on the offensive due to its "plastic" quality of the use of flesh I thought. (I belive Ida actually posted one of the spreads on the CFB link, check it out if you dare!)

  26. Jared,

    feels good to see there are fans of Absolue! It's breathtaking, isn't it. I also love that it seems to gather the more sensuous/adventurous among us.
    Thanks for stopping by and happy new year!

  27. what a great round up- I completely agree about Duchafour, Sartorial, bvlgari Black (okay I don't wear it but always loved it was out there and hoped I'd date a man who did wear it) Bleu, Hermes and on and on. I hope there are more greens next year but not so many that they are killed for us all- and just more great, interesting scents without losing the ones we love, even if they don't sell by the caseload

    Wishing you a very happy New Year (and hoping you had a great Christmas xx)

  28. Thank you K!

    It's a precarious equilibrium for bigger brands: keeping afloat the ones that sell to a closely knit group of afiocionados who are dedicated repeat buyers (I'm thinking of cult classics like Youth Dew, No.19, Diorella etc.) while not completely wrecking them in reformulations and at the same time keeping the furnace burning with stuff that sells really well (yet doesn't completely sell out, either). I've got to give it to them, their job is hard.

    Xmas was lovely (check back a couple of posts), thank you, even though I shopped for friends mostly (my collection is full to the brim, I'm happy to say). Hope the new year brings you everything you want! Hugs!!

  29. Anonymous16:31

    Hi again!

    In regards to the Absolue Pour le Soir, I too, do not find it dirty. I do find it incredibly intoxicating and sensual but not so much dirty or vulgar. I am addicted the sweet honey and cumin that I get from it and my hubby was sold on the smokiness that he gets from it when he smells it on me. He loves it. I do not smell the smokiness at all. How weird is that?

    I have not tried Boxeueses (sp?) yet. Lutens fragrances can be tricky on me. I love FdO and the cumin in it, but his others with cumin go south on me. Does Boxeueses have cumin as a note?

    Have a good day! It's once again raining here. My town has gotten over 7 inches of rain in less than 2 weeks. That's more than we get in about a year. I am enjoying it though and I enjoy wearing the Absolue Pour le Soir in this weather. It just blooms even more.


    p.s. We will have one free day in Athens this upcoming year 2011 and that day will be Sept. 2nd. Keeping toes and fingers crossed that we can work out a lunch or supper or something.

  30. Thanks so much for your mention of my "Light" perfume, Elena. It really means a lot to be recognized by a perfumista of your caliber.

    PS. Did you suss that I am planning a green perfume for 2011? Only decision: a dirty green, a dry green, a floral green, a green chypre.....that is the question.

  31. Thank you for this list! I haven't been keeping up to date on the releases in 2010 so it was nice to read a summary of the year.

    I discovered Francis
    Kurkdjian during a trip to Melbourne in October - I'm probably way behind the times - and the lady in the store gave me a sample spray of APOM pour femme because I told her I love rose scents. And I loved it! It really surprised me. I think it's beautiful. I'm looking forward to trying Absolue pour le Soir soon.

  32. Thank you for mentioning the Outlaw Perfumers. May we shine on and fragrance the world..

    I am proud to be one of them!


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