As the rest of us hurtle towards an increasingly frightening 21st century, trust Tom Ford to remain seated aboard his glitter ball and fly even further into the past. Not that I’m complaining, mind you. I don’t think I’m quite ready for 2019, so the arrival of Mr Ford’s new Beau De Jour - as retro-loving a composition as he’s ever given us - is very welcome indeed. At heart a lavender-geranium-rosemary fougère (interestingly, Chanel’s Boy also went for a luminous lavender to convey an image of a dashing paragon of masculinity), it plays its ‘vintage barbershop’ card with such a guile-free sense of fun, it’s hard not to fall for its insistence that cinemas have only just started showing Jaws, Hawkeye is dishing out wisecracks on M.A.S.H. and everyone’s walking around in corduroy dungarees. That said, Mr Ford’s other great love is the Middle East, and sure enough, this particular Beau complicates his backward glance with cardamom and saffron - a neat counterpoint to the camphoraceous herbs - as well as a heavily patchouli-amber-laden base that instantly recalls Rive Gauche Pour Homme (which, it should be pointed out, has a superior, more suave drydown). That fragrance was, of course, from Ford’s time at YSL and was itself, even in 2003, an expression of olfactory nostalgia. So what that means is: plus ça change... for which this particular writer is most grateful.
[Review based on a sample of eau de parfum provided by Tom Ford in 2018.]
Last December, while composing my usual list of the best perfumes of the year, I wrote that most brands chose to play it safe in 2017. I don't think 2018 presented me with much cause to change that assessment. If anything, it was the mainstream sector - rather than the indie world - that permitted itself to cultivate a few buds of bravery, granting marginally larger budgets to some releases and making a tentative move to abandon certain exhausted cliches. That said, the perfume world remains in the grip of the same forces that maintain a restrictive hold over many global business operations and, consequently, compel decision-makers to follow the path of least resistance towards the easiest options on offer.
Some would argue that those restrictive influences aren't making their presence felt at the very top: according to many reports, sales of the most 'high end', most expensive fragrances displayed healthy growth this year. And if that's true, then it's yet another neat reflection of the wider picture: the gap between the two poles of 'western' society continues to widen, prompting fears about the collapse and disappearance of what once felt like a safe middle. Certainly, the fragrance industry remains fascinating to watch, and even though 2018 didn't give us any headlines about high-profile acquisitions or brand bankruptcies, I would say a few interesting developments aren't too far away.
But what about the perfumes themselves? As ever, once the year's olfactory plonk was dismissed and poured down the drain, the number of commendable creations left standing was more than respectable. Olivier Polge brought a sense of streamlined ease to Chanel with Paris-Biarritz. Quentin Bisch added a new chapter to the tale of modern chypres with his endearing Nomade for Chloe. The folks at Acqua Di Parma bottled an irresistible Italian sun in Chinotto Di Liguria. To mark the twentieth anniversary of the original Cartier Declaration, Mathilde Laurent presented a suitably more statesmanlike, parfum version. Tom Ford offered a chuckle-inducing time-warp to the past with Fougere Platine. The irrepressible combo of lime and verbena sparkled with Mediterranean vigour in Goutal's Bois D'Hadrien. And the re-invention of Miller Harris entered a delightfully spiky phase with the appearance of the nettle-infused Wander Through The Parks. Excellent creations all... but they haven't made it onto my Top 10.
I'll leave you in peace to read the list in a moment, but if I had to sum it up in a few lines, I suppose I'd say that it's defiant. For one reason or another, all the scents on it feel like a statement of intent: a refusal to descend into the soup of banality. Tellingly, in many cases, this means resorting to retro styles. But not in all. Some of the compositions below feel like a genuine gaze into the future: a desire to capture and pin down a glimpse of what hovers in the distance and might one day come to be.
And that seems like an ideal note on which to say a sincere, heartfelt and joyful thank you to all of YOU - my dear readers, viewers and followers - for your wit, encouragement and support this year. I learn so much from you and I am always touched and grateful when you take the time to contact me, either through this blog, or on social media or by email. Long may our conversations continue.
I wish you nothing but good health and happiness for 2019. Oh, and plenty of perfume too, of course.
Here comes the Top 10... as ever with the caveats that: a) I did not smell every single thing released in 2018, and b) the list was drawn from what was new to me in the last twelve months (ie pre-2018 creations I first tried last year were eligible for inclusion).
[NOTE: The 'live' video version of this list will be added to this post as soon as it's available on YouTube. UPDATE: Scroll down for the video or click here to watch it on YouTube.]
When Christine Nagel revived the Hermessence range, she did so with all the style and elegance for which she’s rightly renowned. The finest of the quintet she added to the collection was, without doubt, Cardamusc: a time-slowing, heart-capturing embrace between the vivacious coolness of cardamom and the come-hither glow of modern musks.
We’ve come to expect a riot of multi-sensory stimuli from Neela Vermeire, but with Niral, she outdid herself in that particular regard, presenting iris and violet against a rosy-sandalwood backdrop of the most vivid hues this side of Juhu Beach. With scents like this, who needs tinted sunglasses.
The fact that this is unashamedly an update of Almairac’s own Gucci Pour Homme from 2003 doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be allowed on the list, because encountering - and then wearing - its precision-engineered balance of incense, pepper, cedar, amber and oud was one of my most memorable olfactory highlights of the year.
The greens, mosses and narcissus-like florals of classics from yesteryear made their presence felt in the summer-in-a-forest delights of Dryad, Liz Moores’ most assured and confident composition so far. A dream-laden sunset you wish you could relive for days.
Proving that modern chypres can be commanding, sophisticated and surprising at the same time, The Tycoon presents an agenda that ranges from galbanum to castoreum - with brief items on magnolia and oakmoss - before throwing it all out of the window and insisting that everyone takes the rest of the day off. Assertively fun-loving.
The trend towards futurertro aesthetics in several recent releases found its most endearing and satisfying form in Creative Director Christopher Chong’s Imitation duo. The male version dressed up a hairy-chested patchouli with a gloriously weird leather-violet accord, while the feminine iteration channeled candle-wax aldehydes through blackcurrant and a delightful, vintage-inflected ylang. Despite their name, these are two of this year’s true originals.
With characteristic disregard for fashions and popular tastes, Tauer waited years before giving us his take on oud. But unsurprisingly, when he did, the result was notable for the integrity and lack of ostentation that have won the Swiss perfumer so many fans. Like a back-to-basics primer, L’Oudh ignores all alleged competitors, showcases its star material’s key facets (minus pungently fecal notes) and then throws down the gauntlet to most other scents claiming to contain agarwood.
Inspiration, name and execution all align in this suitably angelic presentation of leather, wherein the material is lifted up to some distant comet’s tail thanks to the help of pepper and ambrette. Plus, it proves that Bisch remains a talent to watch.
Perhaps the most heartwarming of Ostens’ deliciously geeky releases is this take on nostalgic comfort from Dadier. Using tobacco to form a bridge between galbanum and cedar, it is part a trip into a freaky, Hansel & Gretel fairy tale, part a magical day spent at your favourite grandparent’s. In other words: enchanting.
Although its Burj Khalifa price tag may mean few end up smelling it, The Dawn could possibly turn out to become the final word on modern perfumery’s insistent use of woody-amber materials in masculine scents. Here - beneath the canopy of a leathery oud - they’re presented with finesse, restraint and more than just a hint of danger. It may be The Dawn, but I’m not sure it’s inviting anyone to get out of bed any time soon.
in order to mark the sad passing of Vero Kern (at the 33:30 minute mark)
Finally, if you celebrate Christmas, please accept my sincere wishes for a joyous, peaceful and tranquil festive season. And if you don't... well, I'm more than happy for you to share in the wishes.
Please try to tune in to Facebook Live on Friday 28th December at 3:30 pm UK time (10:30 am New York, 8:30 pm Dubai) in which I present my list of the top 10 perfumes of the year. This will immediately be followed by the publication of my traditional 'best of' post here on Persolaise.com
In recent weeks, I’ve had cause to think about Apres L’Ondee and the famously heartbreaking manner in which it combines iris and violet. With that seamless magic peculiar to perfumery, the Guerlain classic sees both materials augmenting each other’s characteristics and concealing some of their more dubious traits: the iris becomes less austere thanks to the youthful exuberance of the violet, which itself becomes less cloying because of the seemingly magnified woodiness of the iris. It is, without question, one of the most compelling interplays in scent creation. So it was with great delight that I discovered it in Neela Vermeire’s new Niral, composed by Bertrand Duchaufour.
Mr Burberry Indigo from Burberry (Francis Kurkdjian; 2018)*
When you’ve spent 10 days crawling through a desert, even the muddiest water is refreshing. Enter: Mr Burberry Indigo - a modest oasis in an endless Sahara of masculine perfumery. Understated, cucumber-saline opening. The minty-lime-leafy air of Fahrenheit 32. A (relatively!) well-judged base of ambery woods and mosses. Nothing we haven’t seen before. But asking for originality in mainstream scent creation for men feels like utter lunacy at the moment, when you can rarely even find pleasantness. Drink the water wherever you find it.
When you’re a person of the male persuasion and you don’t have access to a wide range of fragrance releases - or your budget is a touch on the restrictive side - you take your scented blessings where you can find them. Cue: the new Black version of Prada Luna Rossa. Let me be clear: this is yet another variant of the citrus-woody-amber theme that has become more ubiquitous than pouts in selfies and threatens to plunge the whole of masculine perfumery into the corner of hell reserved for those tree-shaped air fresheners so beloved by car wash companies. That said, it tries to inject some vitality into the genre in the form of a liquorice note - perhaps achieved by a combo of angelica and tonka bean - which lends proceedings a suitably saturnine air of darkness. It’s an idea reminiscent of the now discontinued Kokorico from Jean-Paul Gaultier (2011), a scent whose influence I’ve detected in a few recent releases, as it happens. I daren’t allow myself to see this as a sign that brands have finally decided to shake things up a little on the boys’ side of the shop floor. But we live in hope. Eau De Givenchy from Givenchy (Francois Demachy; 2018)*
The kind of optimistic, orange-blossom-and-neroli cologne that makes you think maybe global warming isn’t such a terrible thing. Endless summer everywhere and people easing themselves into permanent smiles. Lovely work.
While putting together my 2018 list of Christmas perfume gift recommendations, I discovered that Storify is no longer with us, which is a bit of a shame, because several of my previous lists had been stored there. So, to try to prevent the ill effects of any social media disappearances, this year’s selection is going to be presented as an old-fashioned blog post - a compilation of tweets bearing the #PersolaiseXmas18 tag - complete with links for more info on the various goodies that ought to find their way under your trees.
Enjoy finding out what they are... and happy shopping!
On Friday 30th November, I broadcast the 23rd episode of Love At First Scent: a special instalment celebrating the 190th anniversary of Guerlain. It's now available on YouTube and you can watch it above or by clicking here. If you'd like to see the original FacebookLive version - with comments from viewers - please click here. In this episode I covered:
The next episode of Love At First Scent will be broadcast on Facebook Live this Friday 30th November at 3 pm UK time (10 am New York; 7 pm Dubai). I do hope you'll be able to tune in as it's going to be a special instalment celebrating the 190th anniversary of Guerlain.
When you pick up a new book by Luca Turin and Tania Sanchez and you discover that a review of a gardenia perfume begins with that familiar refrain of ‘Not gardenia’, you find yourself heaving a mightily stress-banishing sigh of relief, because you realise that, no matter how insane the world around you may seem, at least a few things can be relied upon to remain the same. In this case: the quality and honesty of Turin and Sanchez’s fragrance assessments. Those attributes come to the fore in Perfumes The Guide 2018, their most far-reaching release since their rightly lauded and influential guide from 2009.
The 22nd episode of Love At First Scent - streamed on Friday 2nd November 2018 on Facebook Live - is now available on YouTube; you can watch it above or by clicking here. Unfortunately, the broadcast was plagued by some kind of technical issue which has resulted in the image quality not being High Def and veering from acceptable to poor on several occasions. (Thankfully, the audio is fine.) I can only apologise, but I won't delete the episode, on the premise that you'd rather have low-quality visuals than none at all. Better luck next time. Anyway, in this edition I covered:
I continue to view the output of Atelier Cologne with both interest and suspicion. They insist that their ‘cologne absolues’ are fresh compositions that manage to pull off the fiendish trick of lasting longer than traditional colognes. But the truth is that many of their scents tick the longevity box because they eschew lightness and rely on hard-hitting ingredients to achieve tenacity... which essentially means they end up being like any other eau de parfum. However, sometimes the concept and the execution come together to produce a praiseworthy result, as in the case of Jerome Epinette's Mandarine Glaciale. We’re used to the idea of aldehydes lending a sense of cool, detached elegance to florals and resins (you may have heard of a perfume called No. 5) but I can’t think of many instances where their influence is used on citruses. Here, the faintly saline, flint-like quality of mandarin is attached with great skill to the deep-chill hauteur of candle-wax aldehydes, which, when they segue into the pine-and-incense heart, create a compelling image of a flash of colour placed in an unexpected context, like a flamingo against a snow-covered peak in Switzerland. It’s a startling picture and yes, as the brand would have us believe, it lasts. An enjoyable piece of work which reminds you that although we love lemons and oranges for how they conjure impressions of Mediterranean balminess, there’s also nothing quite like the tingling pleasure of running your tongue across a deep-frozen citrus sorbet.
[Review based on a sample of cologne absolue provided by Atelier Cologne in 2018.]
For my next live video stream, I'm going to be joining the wonderful people at Feelunique and broadcasting a perfume Q&A session through their Instagram channel, so please do try to join me. The stream will begin at around 1:00 pm (UK time) on Thursday 8th November.
Aura eau de toilette from Mugler (2018)*
Plays it even safer than the edp, toning down the vine-y greenness to make more room for the pear and the vanilla. If it does create a halo, it’s aimed squarely at Insta-pouting millennials.
Nuit D’Issey Noir Argent from Issey Miyake (Dominique Ropion; 2018)*
One of the better mainstream masculines of the last year. Cinnamon, nutmeg and a leafy-green tobacco against a distant backdrop of ozonic woods. Not as complicated as its name.
L’Insoumis Ma Force from Lalique (Fabrice Pellegrin; 2018)*
Add it to the endless list of those citrus-woody-amber masculines that make a compelling case for an all-female society. La force is weak with this one.
Does anyone else play this game? A few weeks ago, Madame Persolaise and I found ourselves in a medium-sized European airport and, as she usually does in such situations, she’d arrived unscented so that I could look around the shop and choose something for her. As most Duty Frees still don’t stock non-mainstream releases - they can’t all be like Dubai International, I suppose - I always find this an interesting little exercise in working out what I’d wear - or buy for someone else - if I didn’t have access to the wares of the independent sector, or even the ‘exclusive’ lines from the more familiar brands. As my eyes glanced over the Versaces, the Armanis and the D&G’s, I wondered if my interest in perfumery would have been as strong as it is today if I’d been brought up on a diet of current mainstream fare (ie Invictus, YSL L’Homme and Eros) rather than that of the 80s and 90s (Antaeus, Fahrenheit, CK One).
Illustration: Bonzer Muivah for Harper's Bazaar India
I'm excited to announce that the 10th anniversary issue of Harper's Bazaar India features an article by yours truly on the subject of perfumes for millennials. To read a tablet version, please search for 'Harper's Bazaar India' on your device.
My latest Love At First Scent video (live streamed on Facebook on 5th October 2018) is a review of the Layers 01 scents from Experimental Perfume Club: they can be purchased individually or as a set which contains an empty bottle in which you can create your own combination of them. To find out more, watch the video above, or click here to watch it on YouTube.