As another year draws to a close, it’s time to look back at the best of 2015. For me, this was an iffy year for brand new releases because there weren’t a huge number of fragrances that stood out from start to finish. The exceptions to the rule were impressive or lovely but, when I went back over all the fragrances that I covered, I found the vast majority fell woefully short.
One reason stems from the hot new trends of the year. Leather was a major compositional note in 2015 or, to be more precise, the tarry, woody, forest-fire smokiness that purports to recreate the sense of “leather.” Another hot trend seemed to be a deluge of black pepper. Neither one is appealing to me, particularly since their chemical nature was usually so intrusive as to be front-and-center. Yet, that sort of excessive darkness was, in and of itself, the most common stylistic approach, one that was frequently juxtaposed next to shapeless white florals, amorphous spiciness, or some sort of limp “freshness.” The end result was that a lot of new releases smelt far too similar for me to find them distinctive, interesting, or compelling. In addition, many of them lacked the quality to warrant the higher prices that we’ve been seeing across the board.
Year-end reviews often list a minimum of ten fragrances, but I refuse to simply include things for the sake of round numbers. I didn’t do so the first year that I began making such lists, and I won’t be doing it this year, either. I have four new 2015 releases that I think were truly good perfumes with very few to no caveats. There are, however, a large number of fragrances that had either great openings, impressive parts, or technical brilliance, and those I’ll include as Honourable Mentions. In total, we’ll be covering about 25 fragrances, so I’ll try to be as succinct in my synopses as I can manage.
We’ll get to that as soon as I explain how or why I chose certain fragrances. Perfume reviewing is subjective and personal by its very nature, so winnowing things down to several favorites is even more so. My criteria for selection varied. A number of the fragrances on the Honourable Mentions list were not really for me personally for various reasons (a particular note or element that I struggle with, discreet sillage, or something else), but they were included nonetheless because something about the particular scent was either complex, interesting, evocative, and/or an extremely good example of its genre that also happened to be done in a very polished manner. A handful of perfumes are quite simple but they’re on the list for the most subjective reason of all: I love them enough to wear them myself or buy full bottles.
Ranking things is always a nightmare. For the 2015 New Releases list, only the Number One slot was unequivocably and absolutely incontrovertible to me. The remainder of the scents are ranked within one slot, plus or minus, of where they are in my estimation at the present time, though keep in mind that perfumistas are a fickle bunch who can change their mind from one month to the next, and I’m no exception.
Finally, some of the fragrances that I enjoyed the most this year technically debuted before 2015, so there is a second and separate list of my personal favorites at the end of this post. They’re all things that I’ve covered this year, but without regard to their official launch date. There is some overlap between the two lists, but not completely. This section also has its own Honourable Mentions. So, let’s get started.
BEST NEW FRAGRANCES OF 2015:
Papillon Perfumes Salome. Salome is unquestionably and absolutely the very best new release of 2015 for me. In a nutshell, it is the smell of sex, seduction, and skin. Salome’s eroticism is classical, bearing an old-school, divaesque floriental glamour, but it’s also beautifully balanced in its boldness, and extremely evocative. There is real talent in the way the scent smoothly transitions from being fearlessly confident in its overt sexuality and sophistication in the opening into a cozy drydown that is addictive with its snuggly, golden recreation of warm, musky skin. What a drydown! Superb. But, also, what an evocative perfume from start to finish as well. I wasn’t the only one who was impressed. Luca Turin, the famed perfume critic, awarded it Four Stars last month in his Style Arabia column, writing, “there is far more to Salome than mere shock value: once the fragrance settles down, it is in fact a beautiful floral oriental, rich and luxurious but with a surprising freshness and clarity of structure that is the mark of genuine talent.” I think he should have given Salome Five Stars, but he almost never does that any more. Having said all this, I must emphasize that Salome is NOT a fragrance that I would recommend to everyone, and especially not to anyone just starting out in niche perfumery. It is also most assuredly NOT a scent for those who dislike animalic muskiness, cumin, or skankiness. For some, that raunchiness will smell “dirty” or “filthy” by the standards of what they’re used it. It is also NOT for anyone who dislikes either the very classical or heavy style of perfumery. For a select few, though, Salome will be a joyous return to the days of intentionally lusty glamour. I’m one of them. I think it’s fabulously sexy. Soft porn in a bottle, and I mean that as a huge compliment.
Slumberhouse Kiste. At first glance, Kiste looks like a simple boozy tobacco fragrance with peaches and spices. I think it’s more complex and interesting than that, thanks to a clever, deliberate, and thoughtful contrast between the genteel themes of Gone with the Wind, and the darker, grittier elements of the American Old South. There is symbolic symmetry to the carefully restrained and beautifully balanced contrasts where decorous sweet tea and honey-drizzled peach cobblers are met by the rawness of tobacco, ruggedly masculine booze, smoke, and even henna’d dark earth. Its rich opening is deeply evocative; its creamy, soft finish is deliciously cozy and soothing. In the past, I’ve admired a number of Slumberhouse fragrances, but I didn’t find them to be the easiest scents to wear with their high-octane nature or occasional heavy-handedness. For me, Kiste is the most approachable fragrance to date from the brand, and turned my head right from the start. It shows off Josh Lobb’s enormous talent with a new deftness in balance and intensity, but without ever sacrificing his signature style or aesthetic. I thought it was marvelous from start to finish.
Hiram Green Voyage (Limited Edition). Imagine a passage to India that begins by sailing through a billowing cloud of fragrant, exotic spices that capture the dusky, dusty, earthy heart of the country. It’s a trip that makes a long stop to sample the lushness of Indian desserts that have been fused with suede, cream, and spicy patchouli, then wrapped up with tendrils of smoke. The journey ends at sunset when darkness creeps over a warm, golden haze of balsamic resins. I ended up buying a bottle of Voyage for myself. I’m still not crazy about the first 40 minutes due to the nature of the citruses drizzled atop the spice bouquet, but that is an issue of personal note preferences. I succumbed because Voyage stayed in my head, beckoning to me with its opulent orientalism, cozy creaminess, semi-gourmand elements, spicy patchouli, and dark resins. It’s an evocative perfume with a deceptive simplicity, its complex nuances lying beneath beautiful smoothness, balance, richness, and a bold scent cloud whose strength is quite different from other all-natural fragrances. Only 250 bottles of Voyage were made, and I’m so glad I have one of them. If the fragrance sounds appealing, you may want to sample it while it’s still available.
Aftelier Vanilla Smoke (Parfum). Forget your typical caramelized or sugar-laden vanilla gourmands, Mandy Aftel’s latest release is something completely different. This vanilla is built around the heart of a winter fire that is cleverly recreated by way of smoky Lapsang Souchong black tea. At times, Vanilla Smoke smells more like a woody fragrance that simply happens to include some lush, oak-barrel Bourbon vanilla, rather than the other way around. What I loved most of all was the quiet smokiness of the fragrance and its deeply evocative nature. Instead of smelling like tea, the Lapsang Souchong recreated one of the most authentic olfactory representations of a crackling indoor fire that I’ve encountered in a while, and it instantly conjured up happy memories of lighting that first winter fire when autumn leaves are replaced by a nippy frost in the air. A good slug of Bourbon is drizzled on top of the woods and dark vanilla to really bring home the cozy comfort aspects. It’s a beautiful scent, and one that I would gladly wear myself but Vanilla Smoke is too diffuse, sheer, and discreet for my personal tastes. Still, I thought it was one of the standouts of the year not only because of its coziness but also because it was a completely new or different take on a genre that is all too often glutted with virtually indistinguishable vanilla clones.
There were a lot of fragrances that didn’t work for me all the way through but had parts that I thought were either lovely, impressively done, or both. In no particular order, they are:
Penhaligon Ostara. Ostara is an ode to Springtime and daffodils which took my breath away in its opening hours, leaving me wishing I had poetic talent in order to convey its beauty and the multitude of images which it inspired in my head. Bertrand Duchaufour captured every nuance of the daffodil’s natural scent, then amplifying it with the heady, liquid floralcy of purple hyacinths. The result transported me with its photorealism and its rare sense of luminosity; I felt as though I were in a field of flowers amidst radiant light. Unfortunately, the rest of Ostara isn’t as captivated or spellbinding as those first few hours. The fragrance turns intensely green and leafy, not to mention sharp and clean with a deluge of white musk. Still, the opening was magical enough that I bought a bottle for myself. There aren’t a lot of truly authentic daffodil fragrances, but this is one of them. The degree of photorealism is also technically brilliant; it takes a truly masterful hand to use such a complex range of olfactory nuances like fine brushstrokes to create an utterly poetic, almost Impressionist portrait of Spring.
Teo Cabanel Lace Garden. Speaking of Spring, one of the prettiest and freshest white floral bouquets this year came from the old French house of Teo Cabanel, once the perfumers to French high society (and the Duchess of Windsor). Lace Garden’s first few hours are exquisite: an endless vista of green is covered by a powerful but translucent web of embroidered lace made from fresh white petals. Magnolia flowers drip a milky juice that smells like figs. Orange blossom buds have just started to unfurl and waft a delicate scent that is as green as the tuberose and jasmine that encircle the garden like tall statues. Ylang-ylang hovers in the shadows, while creamy white trees stand as sentries in the distance, shedding benzoin and a wisp of delicate, warm powder like their equivalent of pollen. The wind blows little puffs of vanilla over the gardens, but this is not a tale of sweetness. It is a rhapsody of spring. Lace Garden’s fluidity feels both effortless and really chic. Its greenness gives the scent a sophisticated crispness, but there is just enough warmth and sweetness to avoid hauteur. At the same time, the lack of indolic, lush, skanky, or ripe elements ensures that the bouquet never tips into the sensuous realm. I suppose one could consider the scent “romantic” by virtue of the flowers it has chosen to use, but Lace Garden is too fresh, natural, and bright to feel that way for me. It’s not a complicated fragrance and it has its flaws, but I think it’s a lovely, good quality, reasonably priced fragrance that is a better white floral than anything put out by far more prestigious, expensive brands this year. (Amouage, I’m looking straight at you above all others. Profumum, your attempt to do something similar with Tagete failed utterly. Lutens, your white floral Religieuse was depressingly bad.)
Guerlain Habit Rouge Dress Code (Limited Edition). Habit Rouge Dress Code (or just “Dress Code”) is a bit of a mixed bag in terms of scent, but it is also the best thing that I’ve smelt from Guerlain in recent years. For this 50th anniversary tribute, Thierry Wasser cleverly opted to create a completely separate fragrance than Habit Rouge, one that gives only the faintest nod to parts of the original while also including modern elements consistent with the current Guerlain aesthetic. This is not a masculine, citrusy, or old-school cologne by any means. Instead, it’s a dusty, withered rose blanketed with spices and then placed atop smoky leather that is gradually coated with praline caramel. Parts of the fragrance are very appealing, especially from a distance, and its appeal grows the more one wears the fragrance. I’m less fond of other parts, particularly up close, like Dress Code’s gourmand sweetness and the synthetic nature of its leather. Nevertheless, the fragrance’s balance between modern and old elements was impressively done, and I appreciate that Thierry Wasser didn’t simply make a tired, stale copy of Habit Rouge with only a smidgeon of difference. Dress Code has some bold, intriguing, and appealing bits that I think would manifest themselves beautifully on the right skin. It also feels very unisex, thanks to the emphasis on roses and gourmand elements. It is definitely worth a sniff by people of both genders.
Unum Opus 1144. Speaking of Guerlain fragrances and mixed bags, Opus 1144 was a fragrance that left me feeling quite torn. I absolutely loved the parts that felt like vintage Shalimar parfum on steroids, mixed with a solid dose of vintage L’Heure Bleue. Other parts, however, completely repelled me: the acrid nature of the citrus at the opening; the cloying intensity and almost suffocating thickness of the vanilla; and the fragrance’s utterly bombastic nature as a whole. This isn’t just a divaesque fragrance; it feels like an actual diva is wearing you (or dragging you by the collar), rather than the other way around. Still, the sheer opulence of the behemoth bouquet, its old-school glamorousness, and its overwhelming resemblance to my two favorite Guerlains in their best, most concentrated, vintage form really wowed me at times. Bottom-line: if you ever wanted vintage Shalimar amped up into a force field and given an intense gourmand sweetness, then you should try Opus 1144.
Neela Vermeire Créations Pichola. Pichola has a gorgeous opening centered on the sweet floralcy of fresh orange blossoms, encircled by neroli, mandarin, and jasmine. What stands out is the brightness, intensity, and concentrated nature of the fruit: they’re green, tart, tangy, and imbued with the zestiness of fresh oils squirting from the rind. It feels as though Bertrand Duchaufour has bottled every part of an orange tree: from the headiness of the flowers to the multi-faceted aroma of its fruit, the green leaves which surround them, and the wood which bears them on the tree. The opening is mesmerizing in its brightness. Later, custardy ylang-ylang joins the mix, along with vetiver, sandalwood, a spice mix dominated by saffron, and driftwood. After a few hours, though, Pichola flattens and dissolves on my skin in its notes, complexity, and body, turning into a simple and very translucent citrusy white floral that often smells a lot like an orange creamsicle from afar. If it didn’t, Pichola would probably have been one of my choices for best new releases of the year.
Providence Perfume Company Provanilla. If Captain Jack Sparrow and the pirates of the Caribbean ever wore a vanilla fragrance, it might be Provanilla, a boozy, quietly smoky, dark, but surprisingly tropical scent. I loved the opening stage which is centered on a rich, dark, vanilla extract laced with small streaks of booziness and spirals of incense smoke, then splattered with a quiet, cool, refreshing wetness that smells of cantaloupe melon. To my surprise, that melon note was my favorite addition to the vanilla, made the scent for me, and also made Provanilla stand out from more typical vanilla fragrance. Provanilla wasn’t as interesting once the cantaloupe departed, and the scent later became far too sweet for my personal tastes despite the presence of myrrh and woodiness, but the fragrance was one of the nicer vanilla releases of the year.
Naomi Goodsir Iris Cendré. I was blown away by Iris Cendre’s fascinating, brilliant opening which juxtaposed olfactory and symbolic contrasts one upon another in a way that felt like cool, modernistic minimalism with so much more. Elegant, sophisticated, restrained, with deceptive simplicity that masks great depth and an astonishing range of contrasts, this was a soft, floral, suede-like iris covered with autumn’s ashes, tobacco, smoke, woody cinders, then nestled amidst Spring’s fresh green sprouts. It was the iris version of Naomi Goodsir’s cult-hit, Bois d’Ascece, only softer, gentler. I’m not an iris lover, but I thought the opening was magical. Unfortunately, things went significantly down hill from there, thanks to a deluge of sharp violet greenness and overly clean, synthetic white musk that thoroughly squashed the interesting, unique, and appealing parts of the fragrance. In essence, Iris Cendre becomes a green twist on the basic floral, woody musk genre. Or, put another way, a generic fresh floral woody musk cocooned in a green haze. Still, Iris Cendre is worth trying for yourself. Others experienced the ash-smoky-tobacco part at the end of the fragrance’s development, not the beginning, so you may want to keep that in mind if you give it a sniff.
DSH Perfumes Fleuriste & Giverny in Bloom. I absolutely loved the opening of Fleuriste, a carnation-dominated fragrance that perfectly captured the scent of a florist’s shop, right down to its chilly freshness. And Giverny in Bloom impressed me beyond belief with the technical skill and intellectual symbolism shown in recreating every aspect of Monet’s gardens at Giverny. Land, water, and misty air; from Monet’s ponds to his flowers, moss-laden trees, and (vetiver) grass, it’s all there. Ultimately, neither fragrance worked for me over the course of its development, but I still think of Fleuriste’s beautiful liquid floralcy and spicy carnations in its first few hours, and of the intellectual brilliance of Giverny in Bloom.
Aftelier Perfumes Bergamoss. Bergamoss harkens back to the chypres of old, except this is the sunny, always approachable version that never bears the haughty aloofness or austere coolness of many of the classics. The fragrance essentially encapsulates the feel and smells of a walk through the country on a summer’s day. You start in the morning in a small forest glade where moss creeps up ancient trees and their gnarled roots. Leaves lie damp under your footsteps, crushed into earth that is dark, loamy, and a little sweet. Slowly, you segue to the meadow beyond as the sun rises and adds a golden warmth to the hay, grasses, herbs, earth and woods that now surround you. As a whole, Bergamoss is a pretty fragrance that feels inviting but elegant at the same time. I reviewed the solid version, and found it far too intimate and short-lived on my skin for my personal tastes (and for the price). However, there is now a limited-edition eau de parfum that probably has greater power. Both are all-natural fragrances. If you are looking for a warm, sunny, and discreet chypre, Bergamoss might be one for you to consider.
By Kilian Voulez-Vous Coucher Avec Moi. Forget the silly name and its blatant attempts at sexualised marketing, this is actually a fantastic, lush, and rather delectable feminine floral that I’ve strongly considered putting in the top category of Best New Releases of the year. If the fragrance was not so basic or simplistic, there would be no question about it because I think it’s the best thing that Kilian’s put out in the last few years. Contrary to its lusty name, I thought Voulez-Vous verged practically on the bridal with its white floral bouquet composed of their fresh, delicate petals, all coated in satiny cream. What I appreciated was the well-executed balance between headiness, fresh greenness, and vanillic creaminess. It’s never indolic; it’s always inordinately smooth; and it’s an extremely grown-up, sophisticated treatment of white florals that is thoroughly enjoyable to wear.
M. Micallef Akowa. In contrast to the Kilian, Micallef’s latest is neither easy nor particularly wearable, but it is the most original fragrance I’ve tried in years. In fact, I’d call Akowa authentically, genuinely unique, thanks to an unnamed, secret ingredient from the roots of an African plant (supposedly used by a tribe in Gabon in their mystical ceremonies). I have no idea what it is, but it smells like nothing I’ve ever encountered before and it has a huge range of nuances that unfurl over the long course of Akowa’s development. That development is an utter rollercoaster, veering from one genre to the next through six stages. The mystery note dominates from start to finish, and has an otherworldly strangeness that can be quite fascinating. Yet, other parts of Akowa verge on the repellant and nauseating, often being loud to the point of almost being garish. Wearing Akowa was one of the most perplexing scent experiences I can recall, making me feel as though I were practically stuttering in bewilderment and beset by a push-pull set of opposing, contradictory forces. I don’t really like Akowa and I don’t think it’s actually a “great” fragrance but, as I wrote in my review, it’s wildly creative. It’s also completely unconcerned about being immensely bizarre, it’s intentionally in your face, and it smells like absolutely nothing else out there. The first, initial encounter with that mystery note is absolutely compelling. I was riveted by the alienness of Akowa, and almost couldn’t get enough of it in the first 30 minutes. In a world where more and more fragrances smell as though they might as well have been created on a factory line, where “distinctiveness” is a subjective concept that is usually relative to the just how generic the other fragrance is, Akowa is objectively “distinctive” or unique. How can one not acknowledge, admire, and applaud that?
MY PERSONAL FAVOURITES:
As I noted at the top of this post, a number of the fragrances that I enjoyed the most this year came out before 2015. One of them I shan’t include on this list for reasons of fairness. Roja Dove‘s 2013 Roja Haute Luxe is in a special category of its own, created without regard to cost and with a price tag that reflects that. Any of the perfumers on this list could have created something utterly sumptuous with the freedom of an unlimited budget, but they faced normal, practical limitations or constraints. Yet, that didn’t stop them from making some utterly wonderful fragrances, many of which average $150 in price.
In the case of the rankings below, the Number One slot was not unequivocal and absolutely incontrovertible to me this time. It was close, but I ended up going with my gut for reasons I explain below. The remainder of the scents are again fluid in rank, again placed within one to two slots, plus or minus, of where they are in my estimation at the present time. Some of the fragrances are the same as in the first list, but not all. (I won’t repeat the synopses for anything previously listed up above, only for the new ones.) So these were some of my personal favourites.
Rania J. Ambre Loup. Ambre Loup narrowly edged out Salome as my personal favorite of the year for two reasons. First, orientals (or ambers) will always be my comfort zone and happy place above a chypre, every single time. Second, every year, there is one fragrance to which I become almost compulsively addicted, reaching for it again and again whenever I have the chance to wear something for myself (as opposed to testing for the blog). This year, it was Ambre Loup. I’m genuinely obsessed. The more I wear it, the more I love it, though not always for the same reasons. At times, it reminds me of the base of vintage Opium. Recently, it evoked a non-honeyed version of Fumerie Turque. In all instances, however, Ambre Loup smells like tobacco above all else to me. It’s tobacco that is simultaneously dark, chewy, quietly smoky, sweet, and spicy like the real gingerbread-smelling tobacco of a Carolina plantation combined with Turkish or hookah tobacco. Then, it’s slathered with labdanum amber, dark resins, spices, and a wisp of vetiver. On occasion, I feel as though I were wearing what I imagine actual opium (the drug, not the fragrance) to smell like, perhaps because the tobacco bears a resemblance to the hashish I smelt in my youth in Europe. Whatever the actual olfactory bouquet, the result certainly has a drug-like effect on me because I find Ambre Loup utterly intoxicating and I can’t get enough of it. The fragrance has monster longevity on my skin (almost exhaustingly so), Slumberhouse-like richness, and a $149 price tag that is very reasonable for everything involved. I simply love it.
- Papillon Salome.
- Slumberhouse Kiste.
Arabian Oud Kalemat Amber. Contrary to the company’s name, there is no oud in any version of Kalemat which is a molten, rich, honey-slathered amber with a large scent cloud, sweetness, woody/incense aspects, and varying amounts of rose as well. The concentrated oil version called Kalemat Amber is even better, and it’s utterly magnificent in its richness. It is also more opulent in feel and better quality than many a famous niche scent that costs much more. Kalemat Amber is reasonably priced at £90, and I think it’s worth every penny.
Maison Francis Kurkdjian Ciel de Gum. A swirling vortex of gold and red, Ciel de Gum is primarily a rich, comforting deluge of cinnamon, ambered benzoin, and dark resins laced with vanilla. That central core is initially placed against a moving, fluctuating backdrop of roses and jasmine that gradually retreat to the background where they shimmer with gossamer demureness before slowly disappearing entirely. Ciel de Gum really shines when the dark, balsamic, and spicy resins in the base take over, smelling first honeyed, then smoldering and quietly smoky, before finishing as a lightly spiced, lightly powdered goldenness that feels as comforting as a soft embrace. It is a delectable fragrance that is beautifully balanced, never too sweet, and one of the best things Francis Kurkdjian has done, in my opinion. Ciel de Gum was originally a Moscow exclusive, but it is now available from the MFK website (although the fragrance listing sometimes vanishes from the site when they run out).
La Via del Profumo Tasneem (also sometimes called “Tasnim”). Tasneem is primarily a simple, uncomplicated ylang-ylang fragrance, but I fell for it from the very first, utterly heady sniff during AbdesSalaam Attar‘s perfume course in Italy this summer and I love it still as a “cozy, comfort” scent. It opens with quick burst of cognac booziness that is immediately followed by waves of lush, sensuous, and heavy ylang-ylang, rapturously heady in its golden richness. Floral sweetness vies with balsamic spiciness and custardy smoothness, while vanilla run through its base like a thick river, underscoring the ylang-ylang’s innate custardy aromas. Drops of spicy, resinously sweet Peru Balsam are drizzled on top, next to slivers of fresh almonds. For a brief moment, the black tang of very indolic jasmine danced at the edges next to something vaguely woody, but both disappeared quickly. Later, Tasneem turns into nothing more than lush ylang-ylang with creamy vanilla softness. It’s as basic as you get, but I find it to be like falling into a bath of golden, buttery, spicy, floral custard that oozes narcotic indolence and snuggly, sweet comfort through every pore.
- Hiram Green Voyage.
- Aftelier Vanilla Smoke.
Anatole Lebreton L’Eau Scandaleuse. L’Eau Scandaleuse is a floral leather that is oh so much more. It is a fragrance that cuts a swathe through different perfume genres and gender profiles to end up as an androgynous, genderless leather in a way that constantly made me think of Germaine Cellier, the legendary creator of Bandit and Fracas. It also marries the best of French classicism and the Haute Parfumerie divaesque style with a radiant lightness the belies the heft and richness of its notes to feel very modern. The juxtapositions and transitions are seamless; the overall result is sophisticated and bold. This 2014 release is a far better scent than many things I’ve smelt this year from famous noses, but it comes from a self-taught perfumer who was once a fragrance blogger. I would have been impressed regardless of who made it, because it is incredibly complex and polished. I loved the parts which felt like an orange blossom twist on Fracas mixed with Hiram Green’s Shangri-La chypre. However, I was less enthused when the fragrance skewed towards Bandit, the hardcore vintage version redolent of smoky castoreum leather, green-black galbanum, and vetiver. I really loathe galbanum in large quantities, but that’s precisely how the fragrance smells on my skin in its later stages: green-black galbanum poured over smoky, oily leather then tied up with a wisp of tuberose. L’Eau Scandaleuse is ultimately not for me, but it’s still an impressive scent in its composition and development. It’s also fully unisex. One chap who normally loathes tuberose in perfumes was utterly wowed by this treatment of it. Others call the fragrance a gem, breathtaking, sophisticated, one of the nicest floral leathers they’ve ever tried, or multi-dimensional. If you loves any of the fragrances mentioned here, I think you should try it for yourself. Given the quality, depth, complexity, and lushness of the scent, it’s a bargain for the price at $110 or €90, but I do not recommend blindly buying L’Eau Scandaleuse unless you really love fragrances like Bandit.
Teo Cabanel Lace Garden & Kilian Voulez-Vous Coucher Avec Moi. (See above.)
Roja Dove Lilac Extrait. Lilacs, lilacs, and more lilacs, smelling as heady, sweet, liquidy, fresh, and realistic as if huge swathes of the actual flower had been captured in a bottle. The purple panoply is underscored by sweet violets whose petals sparkle with drops of bergamot like dew. Other members of Nature’s garden crowd around the edges — a pale rose, green moss, a pinch of spices, ylang-ylang, and vanillic, powdery heliotrope — but they are often more like floating specks in the lilac sea that work indirectly to recreate different facets of the titular note. The result is a truly exquisite photorealistic scent, and the best opening of any lilac fragrance that I’ve ever tried. If it remained that way on my skin, Lilac Extrait would be high on my list of actual favorites (and I’ve struggled a lot with its ranking on this list) but the problem is that its stunning richness, depth, and headiness diffuse and weaken on me after 75 minutes, and the crystalline clarity of the notes is overtaken by a little too much white musk for my personal tastes. Still, I would have bought a bottle if the extrait didn’t have iffy longevity on my skin, quiet sillage, and, yes, that white musk. In light of all those factors together, the price was too high for me personally, but I still think about that gorgeous opening. Roja Dove discontinued the entire Extrait Collection last month, but they’re available at a number of places for the time being, so lilac lovers should definitely look for it and give it a sniff.
Histoires de Parfums 1740. 1740 was inspired by the Marquis de Sade and is a very lusty, bawdy leather fragrance, but it’s actually not as debauched as the association might lead you to think. (It’s hardly as skanky or erotic as Salome, for example.) I think it requires some patience in the early moments, in addition to a strong appreciation for cumin, clove, and immortelle, but it’s worth it for the mesmerizing bouquet that develops. It’s as though the leather has melted into sex, skin, and darkness, offset by warmth that glows like candlelight upon the shadows. There is a heatedness to the bouquet, a ripeness that hints at things being peeled back and flesh left exposed; the cumulative effect somehow transcends the individual notes to ooze sensuality. When you break down the notes, it’s clear that the responsible parties are the dark, almost prune-like fruitiness, the bodily fleshiness of the cloves and cumin, the muskiness of the leather, the earthiness of the patchouli, and the warmth of the molasses-like resins, but 1740 still manages to be more than its individual parts. Sexy, sexy, sexy.
David Jourquin Cuir Altesse. I’m a sucker for things that smell like vintage Shalimar but even more so for fragrances that resemble vintage Lagerfeld cologne. Cuir Altesse does precisely that at times. Boozy rum and cognac are splashed over fragrant, unlit Cuban cigars and the soft, musky leather of a guy’s expensive leather jacket. Bright mandarin, spicy patchouli, actual spices, vanilla, a subtle incense-like smokiness, and tendrils of both jasmine and rose complete the picture. If Cuir Altesse stayed that way, it would be a great fragrance. Instead, a powerful and sometimes overwhelming amount of Bay Rum cologne arrives on the scene. From the middle of the 2nd hour largely until its very end, Cuir Altesse merely fluctuates between spiced Bay Rum cologne and Lagerfeld/Shalimar vanilla leather. The scent merely becomes smokier, spicier, darker, boozier, sweeter, and more ambered on my skin until the drydown when the Guerlainade finish kicks in. There is far too much Bay Rum and cologne for me personally, but I really enjoyed the other parts and I’d buy a large decant if anyone ever split the scent. I think Cuir Altesse is unisex, but more men seem to like it than women, probably because of the Bay Rum and Lagerfeld cologne aspects. A few think the scent skews feminine in nature, undoubtedly because of the Shalimar aspect. If any of those fragrances appeal to you, I think you should test Cuir Altesse for yourself.
DSH Perfumes Fumée d’Or (The Cartier/Brilliant Collection). Fumée d’Or was a complete surprise to me. It’s the fantasy recreation of the imagined scent of a Paris goldsmith’s workshop by way of “odd ‘bedfellows’ and materials … [like] birch tar, metallic aldehydes, indolic jasmine, neroli, and a big dose of civet.” But there is also immortelle, tobacco, leather, incense, resins, and rose. The overall effect is a smoky, dry, sweet golden warmth that trumped the dreaded aldehydes for me. Its strong birch tar note is gorgeous and nothing like the ghastly smokefest horrors found in so many semi-synthetic fragrances today. These smoky, lightly singed woods are redolent of a BBQ or fireplace, then coated with immortelle golden sweetness, dry tobacco, and only a light touch of aldehydes. The latter are more like sparkling silveriness than anything smelling of soap or cleanness. Slowly, the tobacco becomes the woody BBQ smoke’s main companion on center stage before the fragrance eventually melts into a simple spicy, golden warmth that is laced with nebulous immortelle-ish sweetness, a soft floralcy, a subtle smudge of smoky darkness at the edges, and only a wisp of vaguely aldehydic cleanness/silveriness at its edges. I thought the fragrance just got better over time and the drydown was utterly delicious, cozy, comforting, and appealing. Fumée d’Or is one of the standouts amongst the many DSH fragrances I tried, and a fragrance that I think I’ll buy for myself.
Al Haramain Mukhallath Seufi Attar (The Prestige Collection). A concentrated perfume oil (CPO) or attar, Mukhallath Seufi is on this list because of its spectacular opening and the astonishing way that it replicates Amouage‘s much beloved but now discontinued Homage attar. In fact, the opening of the Al Haramain scent might even be better than the comparable stage in Homage. It’s sumptuously extravagant, deeply complex, and powerfully nuclear, a feast for the senses through an explosion of roses that dazzle like three-dimensional rubies adorned with spices and amber in an opulent oriental blend. I don’t even like rose fragrances, and I was bowled over. Then, Mukhallath Seufi journeys from the Orient to Europe, slowly turning into a rich chypre before ending up as a dark, smoky, slightly animalic, more masculine vetiver leather with clean musk. These stages weren’t as stunning or appealing to me, and I wasn’t keen on the last part at all, but the first 90 minutes to two hours truly swept me away.
So, that’s the lot, 2015 in review with all 25 fragrances that stood out to me for one reason or another. Phew, we got through it in all.
Whether you’re a long-time reader or new to the blog, I want to wish each and every one of you a glorious, happy, peaceful, and healthy 2016. For those who have been with me through thick and thin, olfactory stinkers and gems, thank you for reading, for patiently abiding with my obsessive-compulsive love of details, my need for thoroughness, and my verboseness. Regardless of how long you’ve been following, though, please know that getting to know some of you here or on the Facebook page has really been the best and most rewarding part of doing this blog for me, and I mean that quite sincerely. See you in 2016!