Welcome to the year in review, a look back at both the best new releases of 2017 and the noteworthy releases from prior years which I tried this year and enjoyed. Before I start, though, let me say first that I’m operating at a bit of a handicap because I took a long sabbatical for the first half of 2017. I spent the next six months after my return trying to catch up on, test, or review all the new fragrances that I had missed during my break as well as the ones released subsequently, but I’m sure I’ve missed a few great ones along the way. It’s not easy to put a dent in the tsunami of 2,300+ fragrances which are released each year even when one is reviewing nonstop, never mind when one takes a break from modern perfumery. Even so, I found a number of fragrances that either I loved immensely, that I thought were good representations of their genre, or that I thought were original and executed extremely well.
There is an exciting, bright new talent on the perfume scene, John Biebel, a man who reminds me a bit of Slumberhouse‘s Josh Lobb in his creative, bold, unusual, and very modern voice, a man who has quietly released two of the most accomplished and striking fragrances of 2017 and a third pretty one. They demonstrate a remarkably deft mastery of complex fragrance structures, an eye for good quality raw materials, and an innate talent but, above all else, his fragrances feel authentically original. Like Mr. Lobb (and also Serge Lutens), Mr. Biebel has the rare ability to combine unusual notes or aromas that might sound odd on paper but, thanks to his talent and skill, come across in the most interesting ways that leave you sniffing your arm again and again, wondering why no-one had thought of the idea before. At other times, though, he takes a classical composition and manages to make it feel modern and fresh but also dramatic. In both instances, I think that the result is bound to be somewhat polarizing, but then original, thought-provoking, impactful, and sometimes challenging fragrances usually are.
Maharajahs dripping with diamonds, a trip back in time to India, narcotic opulence, heat, lust, and sensuality — Ottoman Empire is all those things and more. It is such an utterly over-the-top floral oriental and with such a hedonistic grandeur that it’s a pity the name “Shalimar” with its palatial Indian inspiration was already taken, because it would suit this one quite well. In fact, I find that vintage Shalimar parfum (in its oldest form) and Ottoman Empire have a few strands of DNA in common.
In the case of Ottoman Empire, I was swept off my feet with heady 3D roses married to honeyed jasmine, tropical frangipani, plush oakmoss, warm spices, buttery sandalwood, several different kinds of oud, smoldering vetiver, and gorgeously molten labdanum amber — all enveloped with a fur coat of muskiness.
It’s sybaritic, it’s divaesque on a grand scale, it’s got the heft of a tank, and it turned my head from the very first sniff all the way to the addictively cozy, sexy last. It impacted me immediately, instinctively, and on a visceral level, transporting me back in time to one of my favourite days and memories of India. Without a doubt, hands down, Ottoman Empire is one of my absolute favourite things that I’ve tried this year and will be high on my year-end list of “Best Fragrances of 2017.” It will be the focus of this review, but I’ll have a short review for Oud Zen, the third Areej le Doré release at the end as well.