Friday, 30 December 2011

The Best Perfumes Of 2011 & Thoughts On Independence

Although I sometimes complain about a lack of interesting perfume releases, I must admit that I found it difficult to whittle today’s list down to ten. Looking back over my notes of the last twelve months, I realise that several worthwhile creations have hit the shelves, some of which (fingers crossed) may still be around in fifteen or twenty years’ time. Like all the best fragrances, those on my list are marked by decisiveness: they showcase the perfumer’s central idea in no uncertain terms, allowing very little (if anything) to shake them off the path they intend to follow. As far as their specific olfactory profiles are concerned, many of them are heavy, diffusive, woody and resinous. This may, of course, be little more than a reflection of my own tastes, but I’d argue that it’s indicative of serious perfumers' desires to separate themselves from the safe, wishy-washy personalities of most offerings.

Of course, my list has to be prefaced with an important caveat: I did not smell every single one of this year's new fragrances. The main reason for this is that there were 1200 of them. Therefore, there is every possibility that an obscure masterpiece failed to register on my radar. If that's the case, I'd love to hear about it from you.

But before I present the final list, please allow me to digress for just a few moments and strike a note of caution about an issue that became more problematic in 2011... has always been completely independent; the writing on this site has not been affiliated to any retailer, manufacturer or media outlet in any way whatsoever. Sadly, this is not true of a few high-profile sites which claim to be equally independent. Unsurprisingly, the perfume industry has realised that the internet is an invaluable resource in its marketing arsenal and it has begun to apply serious pressure (in both subtle and heavy-handed ways) on various individuals to persuade them to publish favourable reviews of their products and PR events. This is a short-sighted strategy which threatens to undermine the very strengths which made the blogosphere successful and important in the first place.

Several respectable perfume houses appreciate that they have more to gain from allowing critical voices to remain free than they do from trying to coax writers into subservience. I sincerely hope that in 2012 more industry figures will learn the wisdom of this strategy. In the meantime, I would urge my readers to surf the net with open eyes: not everything in the blogosphere is as transparent as it may seem at first glance. And for a final word on the matter, here's none other than Monsieur Jean-Claude Ellena, writing in Perfume: The Alchemy Of Scent:

Perfume criticism first emerged on the web. Starting out as personal blogs, perfume blogs have become significant discussion forums, visited by thousands of people every day. Nowadays, these critics comment on new perfumes. They are free to say what they want, as are web users who also make their own assessments. Whether lovers, gourmets, or connoisseurs, I like their attitudes, their genuine feelings, as long as they remain an independent and critical voice on fragrances and do not become a mouthpiece for brand marketing. I see them as of real benefit to people who like perfumes, to perfumes, and to perfume composers. These comments can only encourage young talent and new approaches to perfume. For a while one can forget market leaders, which offer no form of critique other than the simple fact that they have pleased a certain percentage of consumers.

On which note, may I wish every single one of you a healthy, peaceful and exquisitely scented 2012. I'd like to thank all my readers for visiting my blog and reading my work. I'd like to thank all the retailers, PR agencies and fragrance houses who have supported And I'd like to thank the perfumers for giving us so many wonderful creations to smell and enjoy and discuss this year.

Finally, please be sure to visit Eyeliner On A Cat, Fragrant Moments and Olfactoria's Travels for more end-of-year lists.

Top 10 perfumes of 2011 (in alphabetical order)

Candy from Prada (Daniela Andrier) - Gloriously irreverent, this caramelised, benzoin-heavy syrup was easily one of the most fun-filled releases of the year. With any luck, its success will lead to more adventurous fare from the mainstream.

Honour Man from Amouage (Nathalie Feisthauer) - You can almost hear Marlon Brando's voice lecturing you about respect each time you spray this stuff. Impeccably elegant, it is the very epitome of wood-based masculine perfumery.

Mon Parfum Chéri from Annick Goutal (Camille Goutal) - A wonderful example of the relevance of old-school aesthetics. With its chypre credentials, MPC runs the risk of being too old-fashioned, but Camille Goutal manages to pull its patchouli/plum construction into the 21st century.

Myrrhiad from Huitième Art (Pierre Guillaume) - For once, Monsieur Guillaume tones down the patisserie vibe. Vanilla is present, but it's been combined with myrrh, tea and leather notes to evoke a memorable vision of winter in a warm country.

Opus V from Amouage (Jacques Cavallier) - Personally, I continue to believe that Amouage's iris-and-wood based civet-fest is a touch crude. But almost every woman I've met has been absolutely potty about it, and there's no denying that it's distinctive, tenacious and blessed with massive cojones. In other words, it's big, it's bold and it polarises... which makes it worthy of a place on this list.

Santal 33 from Le Labo (Frank Voelkl) - The publicity blurb says America; I say India. Heat, dust and sandalwood come together to create a memorably potent mix, laced with cypriol, spices and steamed herbs.

Sharif from Profumo Italia (AbdesSalaam Attar) - Ignore the dubious opening, wait for the drydown and prepare to be seduced by this tenacious, gilt-edged blend of woods and resins.

Traversée Du Bosphore from L'Artisan Parfumeur (Bertrand Duchaufour) - This made it to several writers' 'Best Of' lists last year, but as it didn't reach these shores till 2011, I get to place it in the spotlight again today. It doesn't remind me of Istanbul at all, but that doesn't matter, because its part-sweet, part-fruity, part-leathery iris is one of the most original compositions I've smelt for a long time.

Trayee from Neela Vermeire Creations (Bertrand Duchaufour) - One of the year's most complex, multi-layered niche creations. Indian sweets, incense, smoke, spices, florals... they're all in there, presented with Duchaufour's usual ability to create intense olfactory holograms.

Vanille from Mona Di Orio (Mona Di Orio) - A delightful, genuinely narrative piece of work which manages to break away from vanilla cliches and take the wearer on a picturesque, ocean-bound voyage, complete with rum and spices.

So now, it's over to you: what was your favourite of 2011?



  1. "I LIKE CANDY" as the song goes - and that is about it from your list, though am most curious to try Vanille. I haven't sampled all the scents on your shortlist but I think our taste is quite divergent so they probably wouldn't have been my thing.

    But I do love reading everyone's lists. The whittling process concentrates the mind wonderfully!

  2. What Ellena had to say about perfume critics is nice. Thierry Wasser seems on board too.

    So yes, four of our top choices overlap! I was expecting a couple, but I get a real kick out of the fact that it's almost half(!). I think for many individuals, taste is constantly evolving, and perhaps we're finally converging onto the same path.

    Loved your post, Mr. P! I'm so glad we got this little blogging group together.

  3. I've tried 5 on your list - Honour Man, Prada Candy, Mon Parfum Cheri, Santal 33 and Opus V. Of those, only 3 were on skin. I couldn't get a sample of Opus V, strangely enough. Les Senteurs was very coy about giving this away, but quite happy to give me everything else Amouage! I only smelled the Goutal for the first time today, funnily enough.

    To me Opus V did smell quite harsh on paper, but the Library series has been hit-or-miss for me.

    Happy new year to you.

  4. I really like your list, even if some are not what I can wear, I still appreciate them a lot. For example, Mon Parfum Cherie does not work on my skin, which makes me very sad, because I find the launch of such a perfume very important. I hope it'll be a success for Goutal against all odds.

    Thank you for inviting me, I like our little group very much. :)

  5. Honour Man was also one I really liked this year. Glad to see it made your list.

  6. Vanessa, thanks for stopping by. And you never know: some of the other ones might impress you. I'm thinking particularly of Myrrhiad.

  7. Carrie, thanks for writing. Yes, Wasser seems to understand the value of free criticism too.

    And as for our overlaps, I knew we both liked Santal 33, but I couldn't have predicted the other ones.

  8. Michael, as ever, thanks for writing.

    Opus V is definitely worth trying on skin, but it's a total Marmite scent, if ever there was one.

    Warmest wishes for 2012 to you too.

  9. Olfactoria, thanks for stopping by. I don't think I could wear the Goutal either, to be honest, but it is very beautifully made, and totally convincing.

    And as for our group, I'm sure it'll go from strength to strength.

  10. Barney, thanks very much for stopping by. I liked Honour Man the moment I first tried it.

  11. I got to smell Santal 33 just before the year was out and was blown away. A very heavy wearing, woody fragrance at its best.

  12. Liam, I'm glad you liked it. It was one of the few perfumes from 2011 which I knew straight away that I had to buy for myself.


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