Rightly or wrongly, it looks as though 2016 is going to be marked as a particularly horribilis annus by the gods of record-keeping. Certainly, in political terms, events in the UK, USA, Italy, Poland and a few other countries suggested that the forces of liberalism are being drowned out by a growing tide of conservatism. This isn't the time for delving into such topics, but it is interesting to consider what sort of impact these global developments have had on the perfume world, which is, after all, vitally concerned about whether people feel able to spend their hard-earned pennies.
In the territory of independent scents, the reaction appears to have been a retreat. True, several new indie brands launched this year, and many of them - together with their more established counterparts - gave us some commendable scents. But overall, the so-called niche side of the industry has come across as extremely fearful and reluctant to push the envelope in the very ways which caught scentusiasts' attention in the first place.
In an astonishing twist, mainstream brands seem to have gone the other way, displaying more bravery than I'd imagined possible in the current climate. Don't get me wrong: big-name perfume houses still gave us plenty of soul-destroying duds. But maybe because a few of them were willing to splash out on bigger budgets and explore more interesting ideas, a lot of their wares weren't the instantly-forgettable, cardboard-cutout nonentities to which we're treated far too often.
Indeed, when I created my initial shortlist of fragrances for possible inclusion on this year's Best Of list, I was pleasantly surprised by the number of mainstream names I jotted down. We got at least one 'thumbs up' creation from Guerlain, Dior, Chanel, Cartier, Bulgari, Acqua Di Parma, John Varvatos and Bottega Veneta, not to mention the high-profile players who did make it to my final cut.
As far as olfactory trends are concerned, I'd say the gourmand finally began succumbing to the demands of the health-food brigade, but I won't write more about this now, as I have a feeling I'll be able to revisit the topic very soon. Woods and dry florals became serious players in women's scents once more. Green compositions enjoyed a resurgence, largely thanks to the efforts of Tom Ford and his Extraits Verts. The 1970s proved to be fertile ground for olfactory exploration. And even masculine scents started getting in touch with their feelings again, choosing not to place quite so much emphasis on abrasive ambers and synthetic sandalwoods.
All in all then, as mixed a bag as any other year. Thankfully, there were a few gems to enjoy, the best of which are in the list below. Please don't forget the usual caveat: my Best Of is necessarily based only on those scents I was able to try in 2016. As things stand at the moment, the industry gives us almost 2000 new perfumes each year, so it goes without saying that it wasn't possible for me to sniff every single one.
In this vein, I should mention that if I'd first tried Bogue's Maai and Naomi Goodsir's Iris Cendré closer to their original release dates - or if they'd been launched in the UK in 2016 - I would have considered them serious contenders for their relevant Best Of lists. But fate decreed otherwise. That said, I do urge you to check them out. Maai is a dangerous, old-world chypre. Iris Cendré sees Julien Rasquinet take the smouldering bonfire of his own, equally excellent Bois D'Ascese and graft it onto a heart-breaking iris.
But anyway, enough of the lengthy preamble. You want the list! Just bear with me for one more para, because I have to say a massive thank you to everyone who helped me maintain this site - and supported my other writing - throughout the year. Of course, some of those people are you, my dear, faithful, inspirational readers. Much gratitude for your loyalty, your comments, your emails, your good humour and your encouragement. I hope you all see out the year in style and that 2017 turns out to be better for each and every one of us!
Okay, here we go... the best perfumes of 2016 according to Persolaise.com...
Tackling mint is always a brave move for a perfumer: more often than not, the material is redolent of a trip to the budget toothpaste aisle of your local supermarket. But in Mentha Religiosa, the ever-dependable Pellegrin renders the note’s familiar freshness more unusual by darkening it with liquorice, incense and fuzzy herbs. A delight to wear.
Apsu from Ulrich Lang
Apsu from Ulrich Lang
In a strong year for green scents, Apsu brings a new shade of the colour into the genre, somewhere between the vivid hue of grass and the softer tonality of lake water. Combining its central note with a suggestion of banana and a sizzle of pepper, it’s one of the year’s most immediately compelling - and soothing - pieces of work.
This is exactly what it says on the tin. And it’s all the more commendable for it. With support from the likes of patchouli, cedar and clever musks, Maisondieu showcases the eponymous note with all its nose-tickling, skin-warming, head-turning power. And he makes the lot last much longer than most pepper scents manage. A triumph.
Gardenia, tuberose, fenugreek and a very naughty saline note make this the best of the Ford orchids. Perfect for sweltering summer heat, it lingers around the wearer like an unspoken proposition, always on the very edge of subtlety. Knee-shaking stuff.
Peau De Bête from Liquides Imaginaires (Karine Bouin)
‘Skin of the beast’ is absolutely right. Beneath a layer of cumin, cloves and leather, Bouin places a sensuous, almost tactile texture, not unlike suede or angora. Wear it and delight in the feline sinuousness coiling its way into your gait. Easily one of the most purr-tastic releases I've tried this year.
An unashamedly retro creation, Bracken Man pinches some dry, herbal, woody materials from classic 1970s masculine scents, gives them a see-through sheen of modernity and serves them with nary a tongue in a cheek. Did someone say ‘groovy’?
Oud Sublime from Nicolaï (Patricia De Nicolaï)
Ignoring the increasingly loud cries of ‘No more oud!’ Nicolai proves that it is still possible to find something new to bring to the Middle East’s most lucrative perfumery export. In Sublime, the light she shines on the unrelenting darkness of agarwood is unexpectedly green, thanks to the ingenious use of a razor-edged artemisia note. Add some rose and amber and you have a thoroughly debauched soiree somewhere along the Cote D’Azur...
Oriental Express (Olivier Polge & Jean-Christophe Herault) & Cuir Impertinent (Jean-ChristopheHerault) from Thierry Mugler
Yes, one of these is from as long ago as 2014, but Mugler’s Les Exceptions range waited until this year to make its way into UK shops, which means I’m legitimately able to include these two gems here. The first is a glorious retelling of Shalimar (via Polge’s own Dior Homme), complete with a roasted iris note and buxom vanillas. The latter delves into perfume history too: it takes the classic leather composition of the likes of Knize Ten and gives it a scifi zap through the use of a minty star anise note. Both are exceptional.
Is there any brand more consistently elegant than Hermès? Even during the transition to a new in-house perfumer - Christine Nagel - their translucent, chic ‘Frenchness’ remained intact. For evidence look no further than Galop, a legible, far-reaching, deceptively simple of juxtaposition of rose and leather.
Streets ahead of the original Modern Muse, this seductive flanker manages to keep two distinctive accords running alongside each other throughout its development: swooning florals on the one hand and translucent, weightless woods on the other. Result: the best thing Lauder’s given us for ages.
Wearing its wide, 1970s lapels with pride, Él channels the likes of Paco Rabanne Pour Homme and Kouros to bring us an irresistible time-capsule of a perfume, complete with enough civet, castoreum and dry herbs to throw all the gender politics of the last three decades straight into Hugh Hefner’s back garden. And trust me, although that doesn’t sound like a compliment, in perfume land, it most certainly is. It’s impossible to separate Él from its female counterpart, Ella. Tracing a path around Cristalle and Aromatics Elixir, she is both a retro diva and a curvaceous, convincing modern chypre.
A happy new year to you all!
A happy new year to you all!