My most profound scent experience of 2013 happened as I walked down an avenue lined with linden trees not far from my apartment in Brussels. Suddenly I smelled the Kiev of my childhood–the heavy odor of wet asphalt, honeyed lindens and gasoline, and the longing to see my family gripped me so intensely that I cancelled a pending seaside vacation and instead traveled home. That trip to Ukraine started a series of other visits and other quests. Several months later as I was having a cup of tea–incidentally, it was linden from my great aunt’s garden–with a cousin I knew only from my parents’ stories, I realized that this year I’ve been on a linden trail.
While experiences like my linden triggered journey don’t happen often, all of my favorite perfumes transport me out of the routine of my day and spark fantasies. In making my best of 2013 list, I included the most interesting fragrances I’ve encountered, but also the ones that made me dream. Patricia and Elisa will also share their favorites below.
Marni charmed me instantly. I loved its combination of rose and Indian incense, its quirky accents of ginger and cardamom and its lingering drydown of patchouli. The notes are rich and heavy, but the interpretation is sheer and effervescent. It’s a skin scent, rather than a perfume that announces your presence a mile away, but it has plenty of character.
Bottega Veneta Eau Légère
In previous years, I’ve made separate lists of various categories of perfumes: niche, department store, mass, etc. I’ve given it up. Can someone please figure out the difference between boring niche and boring department store scents? Apart from the price, I can’t. But Bottega Veneta Eau Légère scores many points for elegance, quality and character, whatever its retail venue. It clings to the skin like gardenia scented silk and makes a perfect companion to the bolder, plusher original Eau de Parfum.
Charenton Macerations Christopher Street
Christopher Street is the type of perfume that’s as rare as snow leopards and pink diamonds. They simply don’t make ‘em like this anymore. It’s an old school chypre (mossy, leathery blend) that has lots of character. The green, crushed leaves and sweet spices hide its whisky voiced sensuality, and as with many classically minded fragrances, it required me to court it slowly and patiently. If you like perfumes like Aramis, Robert Piguet Bandit and Estée Lauder Azurée, it’s a worthy contender.
Hermès Eau de Narcisse Bleu
Jean-Claude Ellena, the in-house perfumer at Hermès, makes sheer etudes his trademark feature. Eau de Narcisse Bleu is a watercolor of green leaves, wood shavings and iris petals that nevertheless is saturated and glowing. Epice Marine is perhaps more distinctive, but Eau de Narcisse Bleu is the one I added to my perfume wardrobe.
Olfactive Studio Flashback
Vetiver crossed with a buttery apple and made luminous and sheer. An original idea and a great, wearable perfume. I reached for Flashback on many grey Belgian mornings to feel more uplifted and energized, and I don’t think that my infatuation will wear off anytime soon.
Tom Ford Shanghai Lily
I can’t get Shanghai Lily out of my head. Paying a markup for Tom Ford’s four letter name doesn’t seem right, but there is no denying that with the help of talented perfumers, Antoine Maisondieu and Shyamala Suryani Maisondieu, the designer has brought to life one of the most ravishing florals I’ve tried this year. In the battle of lilies with Serge Lutens La Vierge de Fer, Shanghai Lily wins easily.
Serge Lutens La Fille de Berlin was another of my favorites from 2013, but I will now let Patricia take over.
Patricia’s Best of 2013
Serge Lutens La Fille de Berlin
When Victoria, Elisa and I shared our best of the year lists, La Fille de Berlin was the common link. This big rose opens boldly with fresh red rose petals and dries down to an animalic stew of amber and musk. If Frédéric Malle Portrait of a Lady is too formal a rose for you, La Fille de Berlin would be an excellent option.
Atelier Cologne Silver Iris
Hermès Epice Marine
Neela Vermeire Créations Ashoka
Elisa’s Best of 2013
Sonoma Scent Studio Rose Volupté
A reissue of 2008’s Vintage Rose (which is desert-island quality for me), the update is different enough to warrant the new name, with brighter, fruitier top notes that bring to mind the aldehydic rose of Eau de Joy. While Vintage Rose was deep burgundy, Rose Volupté is Valentine’s-Day red: still voluptuous, but now with a coquettish smile as well.
Tauer Perfumes Noontide Petals
This sunny vintage-style floral smells like spring, all yellow buds and green stems. All of Tauer’s signature moves are in play: the incredibly juicy citrus, the powdery vanilla and aldehydes, the long-lasting patchouli-and-incense base. Like daylight pouring through a stained-glass window.
M. Micallef Nasreen
Nasreen is the sexiest rose I’ve smelled in a long time, with the smoothest saffron-and-honey oud accord, a tart apricot-jam rose note, and an addictive nutty bite, which must be an interplay between patchouli and vetiver. The texture reminds me of a snakeskin clutch: buttery soft between the edges of the scales that gently scratch your fingers.
Le Labo Lys 41
This tropical tuberose goes on smelling like all things sanitized: chlorinated pool and honeysuckle soap. But the warm, woody-vanillic drydown–which pulls off the rare feat of a subtle coconut note–is faultless. It’s Estée Lauder’s Bronze Goddess meets Kilian’s Beyond Love.
What perfumes from 2013 stand out for you? If you could capture this year in scents, what would it include?
Photography by Bois de Jasmin, Kiev, Ukraine.