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.
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.
What really is a Floriental or floral-oriental? It’s a fantastic sub-genre of perfumery, but I don’t think it’s as easy to define as it might initially seem. Simply classifying any oriental with floral notes as a “floral-oriental” is far too wide-reaching, in my opinion. Moreover, it ignores the balance of elements in most oriental compositions. It’s an issue I’ve been pondering after I realised how few were the number of fragrances that met the definition in my mind.
Now, I grant you, definitions in this context are fluid and are undoubtedly going to be rather subjective in nature. Sub-genres don’t really have an official set of structural rules the way there are for the overarching, main families like fougères or chypres. For the latter, it’s easy to classify because of the tripod format which requires the use of bergamot in the opening and oakmoss and patchouli in the base, with the floral element as the heart. And we all know a basic oriental when we see (or, rather sniff) one, too.
But sub-genres are where things get tricky. Fragrantica has several sub-sections for the fougère category, like oriental fougères, or aromatic ones. In fact, it has multiple sub-parts merely for the “aromatic” category as a whole. So what does Fragrantica say for Florientals or, as they put it, Oriental Floral?
Sweet, warm, powdery base typical of this group harmonizes with such flowers like gardenia, tuberose, tiare or with a spicy note of carnation. In our base the oriental floral group has 2060 for women, 13 for men and 463 shared fragrances.
That’s their entire definition. And I really disagree. First, I don’t think a “powdery” base is required. Second, their definition is so broad that any fragrance with labdanum amber or benzoin and even a small streak of carnation would qualify. 2060 scents? I’m surprised it’s not 9060, given the scope of their criteria. It simply can’t be as generic and basic as that, if you ask me — which brings us, full circle, back to the subjective nature of definitions. I certainly don’t claim to have the definitive one for Florientals and, again, I don’t think there actually is one. However, I do have some criteria of my own. They are delineations borne of testing and wearing a monumental number of orientals because, if this blog has any specialised area of focus, it’s orientals above all else.
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.
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.