Last year, when writing my overview of the best fragrance launches of 2011, I would never have guessed that one year later I would be living across the ocean and speaking more French than English in my day-to-day interactions. And yet, here I am typing away as the Belgian rain splashes against my window. It’s been a roller coaster ride, with some exhilarating highs and dispiriting downs. I try not to dwell on things that are still challenging for me, and instead I try to keep my mind open to new discoveries. My Belgian journal describes some of the highlights from this year.
As for perfume highlights, 2012 brought a number of great discoveries. For my best-of-the-year list, I chose fragrances based not only on technical excellence, but also on whether they gave me a rush of pleasure. I really think that this “butterflies in the stomach” sensation is the only important criterion for selecting a perfume.
The list in alphabetical order.
Boutonniere no.7 tempted me with its promise of a masculine gardenia–can there be a more feminine flower!–but it swayed me with its memorable composition of gardenias crushed with green leaves and wet roots. Vetiver gives gardenia an unexpectedly stoic character, and here we have yet another gem from Arquiste.
Fils de Dieu is one of the best plays on Guerlain Shalimar. It swaps the opaque richness of musk and ambergris for milky rice and soft leather, while the top notes are green and tart. You can almost smell lime zest on your skin. All of these gourmand allusions aside, Fils de Dieu is a sensual potion.
I also enjoyed the warmth of Etat Libre d’Orange The Afternoon of a Faun, also from Ralf Schwieger, the same perfumer who created Fils de Dieu.
Olfactive Studio is my favorite niche brand newcomer–it has an original concept, well-crafted fragrances and an elegant signature. I wear all four fragrances, but Lumière Blanche has become my fragrance of choice when I don’t know exactly what suits my mood. It’s comforting and sophisticated, bright and delicate, tender and wistful.
A flower petal shower courtesy of Hermès in-house perfumer, Jean-Claude Ellena. It’s a rainbow of floral notes that unfold into a lush bouquet. Creating such a radiant effect is no small feat, but even more impressive is how sunny and happy Jour d’Hermès feels.
Séville à l’aube was created as a collaboration between perfumer, Bertrand Duchaufour, and writer, Denyse Beaulieu, (also, the author behind Grain de Musc). I enjoyed following their work, and the end result is exhilarating. I enjoy Séville à l’aube for its contrast between the uplifting citrus top and the sultry drydown. This fragrance captures Denyse’s story of a romantic encounter, but Duchaufour’s interpretation allows anyone to fit the outlines with their own fantasies–a tantalizing combination.
Une Voix Noire wasn’t love at first encounter for me, mostly because it didn’t fit my expectations. I wanted dark and brooding, but this smoky gardenia is soft and mellow. In the end, I fell for its complexity, its unpredictability and its glamour.
The caramelized sandalwood and rose petals of Santal Majuscule deserve an honorary mention alongside Une Voix Noire.
Noir is Ford’s take on the magnificent Guerlain Habit Rouge, but with more tobacco, more smoke and more leather. It’s a Guerlain child, alright, but it makes a classical idea accessible to a broader audience and I applaud Ford for it. If anyone can make American men wear vanilla, it might be Tom Ford.
Spicebomb is a standout in Viktor & Rolf’s line up. It paints a picture of the gentleman’s library with its rich sweetness of pipe tobacco, dark woods and tangy leather. Like Tom Ford Noir, it can easily be worn by women who are tired of the caramel and acrylic flowers on the feminine side of the perfume counter.
Vero Profumo Mito
Thank heavens for creators like Vero Kern, who continue to defy trends and offer their own vision. Mito pairs the dazzling brightness of Chanel Cristalle with the ripe opulence of Rochas Femme, but the total is more than the sum of its parts. A fragrance for those who crave a dose of retro glamour.
Suzanna’s Best of 2012
There were 1366 scents released in 2012, the majority of which I haven’t tried. Still, I envision myself with such a horde of samples, trying four or five a day, eliminating most, until I ended up with four scents so unusually wonderful that they deserve to be called the Best of 2012.
This take on Yves Saint Laurent Paris, part of an art collection retrospective accompanying an exhibition of YSL couture, stunned me with its gorgeous pastel interpretation of the vividly colored YSL original. I used up my sample in a blink, unlike my bottle of Paris. Envision a softer, less dramatic Paris with a violet-rose pastille as a central accord. Simply gorgeous! This is fragrance as haute couture and a huge winner in the Dawn Spencer Hurwitz library.
The Monegal line, which debuted in 2012, is expansive. It was a huge debut with scents ranging from musks to woods to florals. Mon Patchouly stands out as a very original take on patchouli—it deep-ends the note into a bouquet of indolic jasmine and it lasts forever. It’s a little rough around the edges and smooth at the core, creating a tension that is unusual in today’s perfumery.
We should celebrate natural perfumer Mandy Aftel for having creative visions and for taking chances in addressing them. Here, Aftel used the romance of ghost-town decay to build her fragrance of leathers, animal sweat, human toil, and weather-beaten woods. This was the riskiest fragrance of the year and a must-try by the jaded nose that is tired of “note du jour” fragrances. Aftel lives in her own world, olfactorily speaking. Join her there for a lesson in the art of creation.
I was mad about this from first sniff, owing to the tart rhubarb note that clings to the fragrance’s development. Couple that with a hothouse tomato leaf—a favorite note of mine—over a shaggy vetiver base, and here was a seasonal fragrance par excellence. I wore it throughout the summer, enjoying the peculiar turpentine tomato haze of an August afternoon tempered with incense. Note: Smashingly wonderful soap cake.
We wish you happy holidays and lots of joy and exciting discoveries in the new year!
What were your highlights of 2012?
Photography © Bois de Jasmin.