2014 In Review: 30 Personal Favorites

Source: designzzz.com

Source: designzzz.com

My list of favorite fragrances that I’ve tried this year is quite different from yesterday’s list of the best new releases of 2014. The latter centered largely on scents that I thought were good, very elegant or interesting representations of their genre, regardless of whether they were my personal cup of tea, and they were only things that debuted in 2014. Today’s list is purely about what I really enjoyed and does not consider the date in release at all. So, this time around, there are very few qualifications and caveats, and the vast majority of these fragrances are things that I bought for myself, am thinking about buying, or would love to buy were their price not a consideration.

You will notice that a good number of the fragrances are not complex masterpieces at all, but quite simple in nature. One reason for that is that I love cozy, comfort scents, and they are generally not very nuanced or multifaceted to begin with. Plus, mindlessly simple but really well-done fragrances that combine richness with soothing warmth are, in all honesty, a huge relief to me after a long day where I do nothing but analyse every nuance and change in a scent for hours (upon hours) on end.

Ferdinand Leeke,  "The Last Farewell of Wotan and Brunhilde," (1875). Source: Wikipedia.com

Ferdinand Leeke, “The Last Farewell of Wotan and Brunhilde,” (1875). Source: Wikipedia.com

A few other points. As always, I have to repeat my mantra regarding the subjective, personal nature of reviewing in general, and how a list like this is even doubly so. With regard to the rankings, it’s always an utter nightmare, but the Top Ten chosen here are generally quite firm in order. There is a bit more leeway with the next 10 names, as a tiny handful could go up or down one to two places of where they are at the present time. I’m most undecided about the placement of the last 10 which are the most subject to fluctuations in order. One reason why is because perfumistas are a fickle bunch who can change their mind from one month to the next, and I’m no exception. The other reason is that I’ve gone back and forth on a few scents, switching their places repeatedly until I just gave up in the end. So, for now, this is where things are, for the most part. Finally, you will notice that some of my summary descriptions are verbatim from my list of best, new releases of 2014 or from my mid-2014 best or favorites list. My apologies in advance. Covering almost 60 fragrances in two days is rather an exhausting process, so I hope you will forgive me.

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Mid-2014 Best & Favorites List

Photo: my own.

Photo: my own.

We’re more than half way through 2014, so I thought it would be a nice time for a mid-year look at some of the perfumes that caught my attention. I used to do a list of favorite things that I had tried after every 100 posts, but that practice has fallen by the wayside due to the demands of my schedule. A few weeks ago, I was thinking of some of the fragrances I have covered since the beginning of the year, and the ones on my personal list of things to buy, so it seemed like a good time for an updated list.

Perfume reviewing is subjective and personal by its very nature, so winnowing fragrances down to a list like this is even more so. My criteria for selection varied. Some of the fragrances were not really for me, but I think they’re good examples of their genre and done very well. Others are on the list for the most subjective reason of all: I either bought full bottles for myself, plan to get them, or would love to do so, if their high price were not a consideration. Ranking things is an utter nightmare, but the Top Four are firmly placed in accordance with my feelings. The remainder of the perfumes are generally ranked within one to two slots, plus or minus, of where they are in my wholly subjective estimation. None of the 25 fragrances on this list are based on their date of official release, but on what I’ve covered since January 1st through to the end of June. And all of them are current releases, not vintage fragrances. Continue reading

Loree Rodkin Gothic I Eau de Parfum: Cozy Comfort

Source: lewallpaper.com

Source: lewallpaper.com

Winter’s cold temperatures tend to bring out my appreciation for cozy scents. It is perhaps my second favorite category in general, after Orientals, but even more so in the dark gloom of December and January. There is something instinctive and biological about the tendency to hibernate that emerges in the cold, winter months, but I have a yearlong habit of curling up with simple, cozy scents at night. After a long day, there is nothing I love more than to toss on some comfortable clothing after a hot shower, put on perfume, and chill in front of the television. At those times, I reach for something that I will enjoy on an instinctive level, a scent that doesn’t require focus on all its details, but something simple, warm, soothing, and luxuriously deep.

Gothic I EDP original bottle on Luckyscent.

Gothic I EDP original bottle on Luckyscent.

I think Gothic I definitely qualifies. It is an eau de parfum from the jewellery designer, Loree Rodkin, and I spent more than a few nights last month and in the recent freezing days enjoying its rich warmth. It’s all thanks to one of my readers, “CC,” who wrote to me during my patchouli series to inquire if I had ever tried Gothic I (as in the number “1”), and who generously insisted on sending me a small decant. She thought I might be interested because Gothic I (which I’ll just simply call “Gothic“) has two kinds of patchouli in it, though it also has vanilla.

It turns out that, on my skin, Gothic is almost entirely a vanilla scent, but it’s a lovely one! Vanilla is not a category of fragrances that I generally seek out, and I most definitely avoid gourmands for my own, personal use. Yet, deep down, but I have a huge appreciation for a certain kind of vanilla: the rich, Madagascar, Bourbon extract type that feels simultaneously deep, heavy, dark, and somewhat dry. That’s essentially the broad profile of Gothic, which also has the benefit of strongly resembling Profumum Roma‘s much more expensive Dulcis in Fundo, but with a touch of patchouli.

Gothic was released in 2013 as the eau de parfum version of Ms. Rodkin’s earlier oils, and is considered the signature fragrance of her line. Its notes are as simple as the fragrance itself, which Luckyscent describes (with an inexplicable touch of the romance novel, in my opinion) as follows:

A moody vanilla shrouded in a mist of light woods and patchouli. Sensuous and unrepentant. We picture long hair whipping in the wind, a search by candlelight and a man driven half mad by love. Still, for all of its gorgeous drama, we could wear this everyday. It has the luxuriant skin-caressing softness of a vintage silk velvet cape. Worn over nothing. Voluptuous and mesmerizing.

Notes: Vanilla pod, Madagascar vanilla, spice accord, Tunisian patchouli and Indian patchouli.

Picture of vanillin crystalizing out to surface of Bourbon vanilla beans. Source: amadeusvanillabeans.com

Picture of vanillin crystallizing out onto the surface of Bourbon vanilla beans. Source: amadeusvanillabeans.com

Gothic is far from “moody,” in my opinion, and definitely doesn’t evoke any man driven half mad with love, but it’s definitely a voluptuous, luxurious scent. It opens on my skin with the richest, most buttery vanilla imaginable, as thick as if pots of butter and custard had been poured into it. Seconds later, it is infused by a momentary boozy sweetness, then a breath of warm patchouli. There is the merest hint of abstract spices dancing all around, perhaps a dash of cinnamon, with the tiniest pinch of nutmeg, and something woody. As a whole, though, Gothic is 3-parts Bourbon vanilla extract, and one-part patchouli. Perhaps a more accurate set of numbers would be 80% vanilla, and 20% patchouli, at least for the opening 30 minutes.

Source: biofarmacia.ro

Source: biofarmacia.ro

Gothic is extremely concentrated and dense in feel, but the sillage isn’t nuclear. It envelops you in a deep cloud about 3-4 inches above the skin at first. The smell is utterly delicious, but it is initially much drier and much less sweet than its very close relative, the Dulcis in Fundo. It lacks the waffle cones and caramelized sugar aspect of the Profumum fragrance, and somehow seems fractionally less gourmand in nature.

Ten minutes in, the perfume shifts a little. There is an odd, utterly unexpected touch of flour that creeps in. I have the strangest image of Gothic as a really rich, but dry, baked vanilla cake, dusted with patchouli, and with the faintest remnants of flour left in the buttered tin. Vanilla, patchouli, flour, and butter… none of it seems remotely “gothic” in nature, but the fragrance is also not as unctuous as those notes may suggest. There is nothing gooey or saccharine-like in the sweetness, nothing that makes me feel queasy by excess. One’s perceptions of “cloying” may depend on definition and on one’s personal yardstick, but, to me, Gothic isn’t cloying despite its richness because of the undercurrents of dry woodiness and spice created by the other elements. In any event, the flour, butter, patchouli and spice all retreat to the sidelines, less than 30 minutes into Gothic’s development.

Source: footage.shutterstock.com

Source: footage.shutterstock.com

They continue to impart a slight, indirect touch on the fragrance which is now almost entirely rich vanilla. And, there, Gothic remains until its very end. To my surprise, at the end of the 2nd hour, hints of caramelization and waffle cones creep in. They turn the perfume into a virtual clone of Dulcis in Fundo, only Gothic has that muted, muffled whisper of patchouli floating in the background. The incredibly smooth, rich, dense vanilla lies right on the skin, though it’s very strong when smelled up close. Once in a while, a delicious trail of richness in the air would catch me by surprise, and I’d realise it was a tendril of Gothic that had followed me. Generally, Gothic turns into a true skin scent somewhere between 5.5 and 6.5 hours, depending on the quantity you apply. With 3 medium-to-good sized sprays from the little atomizer, the perfume lasted almost 15 hours on my perfume consuming skin. With a lesser amount, it lasted around 12.5 hours.    

Gothic I EDP in the new, vertical bottle.

Gothic I EDP in the new, vertical bottle.

Nothing about Gothic’s scent is complicated, but sometimes simplicity has its own charms. I think that’s especially true if you’re looking for a comfort scent to curl up with on a cold winter day. The only complication that tripped me up in terms of the perfume was figuring out the bottles, prices, and various options. I was used to seeing the square bottle offered by Luckyscent for $140, and the first time I looked at Loree Rodkin’s site back in December, that was also what was shown. This week, however, the perfume appears on her website in a tall, narrow bottle shape which threw me off because Ms. Rodkin confusingly offers an identical looking thing that is labelled as a “room spray.” The perfume I tested was the 50 ml Eau de Parfum, but the “Ambiance” room spray is an large 4 oz bottle described as Eau de Cologne (for the room??) and priced significantly lower at $75. (It’s $25 less on Amazon, via Loree Rodkin herself.) Either way, the Eau de Parfum seems to have changed in its bottle shape to look extremely close to that of the “Room Spray,” so if you’re looking into the fragrance make sure you get the right version.

The Gothic I Ambiance "Room Spray" bottle. Source: Amazon.

The Gothic I Ambiance “Room Spray” bottle. Source: Amazon.

Then, there was the question of price. Gothic I is priced at $140 on Luckyscent, but numerous comments there talk about $250 a bottle. Obviously, the prices have dropped substantially, which is pretty unusual in the perfume world where things only go up and up. The pricing makes me even more intrigued by the Ambiance room spray. It can hardly be air freshener, and I assume that it is mere eau de cologne in strength, but $49.99 on Amazon for a huge 120 ml/4 oz (versus $150 for a 50 ml bottle of eau de parfum) seems like an excellent deal, even if one is getting the anorexic, Diet version.

Gothic I EDP original bottle shown on Fragrantica and Luckyscent.

Gothic I EDP original bottle shown on Fragrantica and Luckyscent.

Still, the best part of Gothic really is its enormous richness and depth. There is a great description of it on Fragrantica:

when I got my nose on this patchouli / vanilla bomb (sample from Luckyscent) I felt the earth move.

The vanilla here is not sickly, rather it is dark and seductive. The patchouli has been stripped of its crusty afghan coat and been given a good scrub up. It’s a delicious combination that purrs gently on the skin, but projects like a monster and lasts all day. It borders on gourmand but thankfully (I sold my Musc Ravageur as I didn’t want to smell like a cinnamon bun) stays out of the kitchen. If you find Serge Luten’s Un Bois Vanilla and its ilk just too sweet, this might be the one for you.

That review is from a man, and the only other review comes from a woman who had a very different experience:

I wish I could wax rhapsodic about this one, but its medicinal pungency overwhelms any vanilla tendencies. While retaining its earthiness, this is a less dank and more fresh and minty patchouli. The spices add to the medicinal quality that reminds me of old, plastic-y Band-Aid strips. I think this one might be too bright and sweet for those lovers of dark, brooding fragrances, but too earthy for those looking to graduate from cupcake vanilla scents.

I’m rather amazed by what skin chemistry can do. Clearly, she’s experiencing real, hardcore, genuine patchouli to a huge (and very green) degree, and she’s obviously not a fan. I am, but I experienced almost none of it in Gothic. It may have started at 20%, at best, but it quickly became a mere 5% on my skin, if even that.

I actually have to wonder if the commentator did not leave her review in the wrong place, because it sounds to me as though she’s really describing Gothic II. It is a scent which I’m now dying to try, and which seeks to really showcase the element in a strong, fierce way with notes that include:

cloves, incense, sandalwood, frangipani, indian patchouli, Tunisian patchouli, and madagascar vanilla. 

The more typical descriptions of Gothic (#1) talk about how the scent is dominated by vanilla. Consider this review on Australian Perfume Junkies, where the guest blogger, “Kymme CV,” writes:

Gothic I opens with an enormous sweet vanilla slap in the face, just like a vanilla custard-pie but more! This ‘vanilla’ is an exotic, deep, rich and velvety vanilla. But it’s really not that simple a fragrance. There’s a real depth to the Madagascan vanilla that comes alive once the spice starts to come through. Now we’ve got nutmeg on our vanilla pudding! The spice accords mixed with the vanilla give the fragrance a dramatic nuance.

When I first wore Gothic I hours passed before I started sensing the patchouli notes coming through. However, each time my body temperature rose a little the patchouli blend came storming through. At first I didn’t even realise it was me that I could smell! As soon as my body cooled again, back came the vanillas.

Skin chemistry is obviously responsible for how much patchouli you experience, and the posts on MakeupAlley seem to support that view. There, the assessments for Gothic are mixed, primarily because of the price of the Gothic oil, but also because of the degree of patchouli. Apparently, not everyone shares my love of actual, original true patchouli. I’m crushed…. Facetiousness and joking aside, here is a glimpse of the range of perspectives:

  •  I adore complex scents – especially woods, incense, spice, but sometimes I simply crave something sweet…like wanting a fudge brownie on occasion, but not daily. This is one of my fragrance equivalents to a fudge brownie. It’s an incredibly sultry, rich, sweet vanilla intensified with patchouli and woods. It layers gorgeously with other fragrances, softening all sharp edges. It’s in the same vein as Des Filles a la Vanille’s Vanille, but much longer lasting and deeper.
  • I adore this fragrance. It’s the nicest patchouli fragrance I ever smelled. I am also a big fan of Les Nereides Patchouli Antique. I love Gothic I more.
  •  While this one is pretty expensive, it’s also a lovely, warm, rich, Oriental vanilla with incredible lasting power. A dab on the back of a wrist lasts me well past 7 hours and then some. Sometimes a strong patchouli gives me difficulty, but this one is blended beautifully and gives the fragrance just enough backbone without being over-powering. Mostly I smell a sweet vanilla with amber/patchouli undertones and a good dose of sweet wood and benzoin. Heavenly!
  • A pleasant patchouli/vanilla oil that smells somewhat “chocolaty” and is unpleasantly overpriced and over-hyped about. Voleur de Roses smells patchy and gothic, this smells like a sweet girly girl with ponytails and a bar of chocolate candy in her hand –and NOT Gothic.

All those reviews date from 2005-2007, and the reference to an “oil” makes it clear that they are not talking about Gothic I Eau de Parfum at all, but the very expensive oil which predates it by about 8 years. For all I know, it may be quite different in smell, and with more patchouli essence.

I agree with them that the oil seems very over-priced at $110 for 7 ml, but the new 2013 eau de parfum might be worth it for those who love extremely rich vanillas with a dash of dry patchouli woodiness, and a microscopic sliver of spices. It’s $140 for 50 ml, and a little goes a long way. The Profumum may be cheaper per milliliter at $240 for 100 ml, but they’re both excellent fragrances. I personally like the Rodkin version more than the Profumum, because some patchouli is always preferable to none. Plus, Gothic is much less gourmand — relative as that may be for a fragrance devoted to the richest vanilla imaginable. It’s a dry, almost woody vanilla, not an unctuous, gooey one that drips sugar. And it’s fantastic on a cold winter’s night or as a bedtime scent.

I’ve always said that I have the best and kindest readers around, but “CC” went out of her way to seek me out with her generous offer. All because she knew of my passion for patchouli! Thanks to her, I’m definitely tempted to buy a bottle of Gothic, but the only thing stopping me is the possibility of a version that may have three times the patchouli, along with incense and spice. Unfortunately, Gothic II is not offered at Surrender to Chance, but I am on the hunt, and quite determined now. In the meantime, I shall treasure my little decant of Gothic I, and the sign of friendship that went along with it.

As for all of you, if you love rich, woody vanillas, and have some tolerance for real patchouli, do try Gothic I. Don’t expect a patchouli scent, or you’ll be sorely disappointed. In terms of vanilla fragrances, though, this is a lovely one.

Cost & Availability: Gothic I is an eau de parfum that comes in a 50 ml bottle that costs $137 or $140. The fragrance is also available as a perfume oil in a 7 ml roll-on bottle, as well as a room fragrance called Ambiance Eau de Cologne in a 4 oz/118 ml bottle. Loree Rodkin website: Loree Rodkin sells Gothic I EDP in a tall 50 ml bottle for $137. She sells the Ambiance Eau de Cologne — which she describes as a “room spray” — for $75 for a 4 oz bottle. However, the Loree Rodkin Amazon page sells that same fragrance (which it says originally retails for $175) for $49.99. For readers in Japan, there is also a Rodkin Japan website. Other vendors: Luckyscent also sells Gothic I EDP in the original square box for $140, along with the 7 ml concentrated Gothic oil for $110. You can also buy it from Net-a-Porter. Outside the U.S.: I’ve had difficulty finding Gothic I sold at any stores outside the U.S., even though Loree Rodkin’s stuff is carried in a number of countries, from the UK to Switzerland, Greece, Austria, Taiwan, the UAE, and others. From what I’ve seen of the UK and French sites, they don’t carry her fragrances, only her jewellery. You can find the full list at her Locations page. Samples: Luckyscent sells samples, as does Surrender to Chance which offers Gothic I EDP starting at $7.99 for a 1 ml vial.