In a year that saw the release of a film about the evils of sugar, mainstream scent compositions seemed to keep getting sweeter and sweeter. Perhaps that's not surprising: I guess if people can't eat the stuff, they want to walk around in a permanent fog of it. Jokes aside, the increased calorie content of our perfumes served as a useful symbol of the fragrance industry's behaviour across the whole of 2015. In a nutshell, it continued to play it safe and pander to the lowest common denominator.
A few other details and near-trends rose up from the sticky syrup of the last 12 months. One of these was the greater prominence of musks in mainstream scents. It goes without saying that they've been present in perfumes for decades (and that, surprise surprise, they're getting more sugary too). However, in several pieces of work (notably Clinique's Aromatics In White) they were pushed to the foreground with an insistence we hadn't seen for a while. In most western cultures their odour profile denotes safety and comfort, so perhaps their heightened presence is an artistic response to a political climate that's even more uncertain than it was a couple of years ago. Having said that, I'd love to know the socio-cultural reason for the interminable (and depressing!) use of synthetic sandalwoods and ambers in so many masculine scents. Maybe that's also about safety: the safety of keeping in with the crowd.
On a more positive note, quite a few major brands provided us with commendable flankers this year. This sub-set of scent creation tends to be the most soul-destroying of all, but the likes of Guerlain's Habit Rouge Dress Code, Dior's J'Adore Touche De Parfum, Chanel's Chance Eau Vive, Lalique's Encre Noire A L'Extreme, Cartier's Must - Gold, Mugler's A*Men Ultra Zest and the aforementioned Clinique demonstrated that revisiting the past can yield excellent results. It was also pleasing to see a larger number of fragrance houses including more concrete details about ingredients in their marketing material: several press kits referred to LMR, for instance, or to particular extraction processes. I'm sure this is mainly done with the intention of 'blinding with science', but if it serves to raise awareness of the real work that goes into perfume construction, then it's to be welcomed.
In the niche world, I'm sorry to say that the chief characteristic of 2015 was fear. Following a few well-documented seismic shifts (ie the purchase of several small-scale brands by multi-national conglomerates) there was a sense that the independent sector was in danger of losing any power it might have had. Regrettably, in creative terms, this appeared to translate into a spate of unremarkable compositions, many of which appeared interested in little more than the trappings of 'niche'. Meanwhile, Frederic Malle - the most high-profile of the acquisitions - went from strength to strength, opening boutiques in Rome and London, and bulking up its portfolio with ancillary products. The tension between the independent sector and the rest of the industry remains worthy of the closest scrutiny.
But let's forget all that for a moment: we ought to close the year with a celebration. So here, in no particular order, are the 10 best perfumes of 2015, according to Persolaise.com. The usual caveats apply. The number of new fragrances released each year is still well over the 1000 mark, so there's no way I can pretend that I sniffed every single scent that hit the market. A few gems may well have slipped under my critical radar, which means that, technically, this list should be entitled 'The 10 best perfumes which I happened to smell in 2015'. Qualifications aside, there's no question that all the perfumes on this list had something intriguing or novel to offer and that they all reminded me why I continue to write this blog. I am grateful to the people who created them. And, as ever, I am thankful to all of you, my readers, for visiting this site and making this labour of love worthwhile. I'd like to wish all of you peace, happiness and good health for 2016. Finally, please do visit my partner in list-making endeavours today, the Candy Perfume Boy, for his own take on the highlights of the last 12 months. Enough chatter from me: here comes the run-down...
L'Eau Corail from Nicolaï (Patricia De Nicolaï)
I tend to be suspicious of releases aimed at the summer market, but Corail won me over. Under Nicolaï's expert manipulation, mango, melons and citrus fruit came together to form one of the most scintillating 'fresh' scents of recent years, complete with a wink and a smile.
Kerbside Violet from Gorilla Perfume (Simon & Mark Constantine)
When they do weird well, the Constantines are the most dazzling perfumers around, a fact they proved yet again with this compelling mix of the urban and the natural. You may not think you'd like to smell like an intersection of grass and tarmac, but a sniff of this stuff may well change your mind.
Sunshine Man from Amouage (Pierre Negrin & Fabrice Pellegrin)
The light of the Côte D'Azur shines in every breath of this exuberant, aptly-named homage to lavender, spiced up with pepper and immortelle. I wore it constantly over the summer and I didn't get tired of it for a single moment.
Panorama from Olfactive Studio (Clément Gavarry)
Regular readers won't be surprised to see this here. From the very first sniff, I was knocked sideways by its intriguing blend of myrrh with wasabi (yes, really!) and I haven't quite picked myself up from the floor yet. Tart, green and electric, it's one of the year's true originals.
Cologne Indelebile from Editions De Parfums Frederic Malle (Dominique Ropion)
Malle's addition to the cologne genre showed what can be achieved with heavy-hitting ingredients (in this case, musks and orange blossom notes) when they're in the hands of an expert. Simple without being simplistic, Indelebile gleams with a lustre that is part-vintage, part-sci-fi and all-gorgeous.
Métal Hurlant from Parfumerie Générale (Pierre Guillaume)
You can not only see polished chrome but also feel it and smell it in this fuel-guzzling, leather-wearing, jaw-clenching homage to Kouros. And as for sounds... the purr of this creation's engine lingers in your head long after the steel has sped into the distance.
Pichola from Neela Vermeire Créations (Bertrand Duchaufour)
It's been said that the brand providing the best showcase of Duchaufour's extraordinary skills is currently NVC: Pichola would certainly seem to support this. A contemplative marriage of tuberose and orange blossom, it is rich in details whilst remaining cohesive, distinctive and gorgeous.
J'Adore Touche De Parfum from Christian Dior (François Demachy)
This new version of the unremittingly popular J'Adore tweaked not just the composition's scent - heady gardenia and sandalwood joined the original's florals - but also its form: the base is oil instead of the usual alcohol. The result is intimate, sensual and unforgettable.
Madagascan Jasmine from Grandiflora (Michel Roudnitska)
With the release of its third scent, Saskia Havekes' Grandiflora seals its status as one of the niche brands to watch. Bold, operatic and endearingly imperfect, Madagascan Jasmine takes its central material and propels it to heights of heart-breaking, giddy intoxication.
Incense Flash from Tauerville (Andy Tauer)
You think you don't need another incense perfume, but then along comes one which makes you fall to your knees and yell Hallelujah. Here, the familiar material is given a brash, animalic twist with growling leathers and dusty smoke. The line between heaven and hell suddenly got blurred.
A happy new year to one and all!