Here is our eclectic selection of favorite fragrances, including older perfumes we most enjoyed wearing this year. We also would love to read your lists of 2015 highlights–perfumes, books or anything else that stood out. Bois de Jasmin will return on Monday, January 4th, and in the meantime we wish you a happy and fragrant new year! We look forward to another year together with all of you.
The “Best of” in the title of this article should be taken with a grain of salt. I spend enough time testing fragrances and thinking about them, but even so, I’m hard pressed to remember everything I tried this year, much less to rank my preferences in a logical manner. But would such a list even be interesting? When Elisa, Andy, Patricia and I exchanged thoughts about our discoveries in 2015, we quickly realized that our lists fascinated us for their idiosyncrasies.
Victoria’s 2015 Favorites
Alaïa Paris by Azzedine Alaïa
Alaïa is doubtless my favorite launch of 2015. Describing it as floral leather doesn’t convey all of its nuances and its thoroughly modern way of reinterpreting this classical idea. It feels impeccably elegant and yet without anything fussy or too high-maintenance.
Narciso by Narciso Rodriguez
Narciso Eau de Toilette is a launch that makes sense from bottle–a white cube–to the scent–enveloping musk, sun bleached woods and gardenia petals. It’s entirely abstract, wearing like a second skin scent, while leaving a soft but distinctive trail. A perfume to choose when I don’t feel like wearing perfume. Another elegant perfume with a dose of comfort.
Bvlgari Eau Parfumée au Thé Bleu
Eau Parfumée au Thé Bleu is a variation on the successful Eau Parfumée au Thé Vert, but what makes it interesting is the use of lavender and iris to create a delicate but dramatic accord. Excellent raw materials do not automatically make a good perfume, but it’s always a pleasure to smell such a well crafted fragrance.
In this year’s niche perfumery it’s easier for me to point out what I disliked than to pick favorites. Frédéric Malle Cologne Indélébile was bordering on unpleasant (but Andy would disagree; see his comment below). Serge Lutens’s Section d’Or wasn’t good enough to match its going price. Tom Ford rested on the laurels of last year’s splendid Jardin Noir collection. One exception was Arquiste’s Nanban, a leather and incense blend inspired by Japanese aromatics. The idea isn’t novel, but the way it was executed made Nanban interesting–dark, rich but effervescent.
Prada Les Infusions de Prada Line
This year Prada relaunched its Infusions collection and augmented it with a few new fragrances. If you like gossamer-light perfumes that have a natural feel, this is a good line to explore. Unlike Hermessence or some of Chanel’s Les Exclusifs, Les Infusions have enough body–they won’t fly off the skin within minutes. I liked Infusion d’Oeillet for its spicy flowers mixed with mandarin zest and patchouli. Infusion de Vétiver is a completely new formula, with only a few echoes of the 2010 original. It blends vetiver with cardamom, tarragon and rose. Infusion d’Amande is like a sip of orgeat, an almond drink flavored with rosewater. Finally, Infusion d’Iris Cèdre is a classical cool iris with incense, neroli and aldehydes emphasizing its patrician refinement. The line is so polished that after wearing it long enough I needed a reality check with Pink Sugar or Chopard Casmir, but overall, it stood out.
Annick Goutal Duel
I enjoyed revisiting this watercolor sketch of green tea, violets and soft leather. Duel reminded how much character classical Goutals used to have, even at their most delicate, and also how much fun it is to organize one’s perfume collection.
Saffron and Rosewater
Having returned from Iran, I found myself craving saffron and rosewater. Persian cooking and beauty rituals, to say nothing of the poetry and art, are filled with scented references, and my first impression of Iran was a strong aroma of rosewater at Tehran’s airport. Relying on my favorite Iranian cookbooks, I have been replicating dishes I tried during my visit, an adventure that allows me to indulge in saffron and rosewater. Making the golden potion is easy–saffron is warmed up slightly in a pan and then ground to powder. The powder is dissolved in rosewater and the liquid can be used in a wide range of dishes, from yogurt salads and meat stews, from soups to desserts. Although rose seems like a strange flavor to pair with meat or fish, in small amounts it doesn’t taste like perfume but rather adds complexity. And the combination of rose and saffron smells so good that I’m often tempted to rub it onto my skin. Apparently, it’s a well-known beauty treatment.
Diana Athill’s Memoirs
Reading memoirs you realize how important scents are both for the writer to remember the past and to be able to conjure it up for the reader. This is the case with Diana Athill’s Alive, Alive Oh!, a memoir written as the British novelist and editor turned 97. Athill’s writings were recommended by a dear friend, to whom I’m most grateful; Athill worked with some of the best authors including John Updike, Philip Roth, Jean Rhys and Margaret Atwood, and her own style is distinctive for its clarity and vigor.
Alive, Alive Oh! is a collection of reflections, happy, tragic, or prosaic but nevertheless significant. The details that Athill conjures up in her crisp prose are among the most beautiful parts of the story: the perfume of bluebells at Fountain’s Abbey at Yorkshire, the crunch of grass under the feet of a tortoise moving towards water, the reflections on the green water of Venice’s canals. “Looking at things is never time wasted,” writes Athill. “When I was marveling at the beauty of a painting or enjoying a great view it did not occur to me that the experience, however intense, would be of value many years later.” The same could be said of smelling.
Elisa’s 2015 Favorites
I totally failed at keeping up with new releases in 2015, but here are the perfumes, both new and old, I was most excited to wear this year:
Estée Lauder White Linen
White Linen isn’t new to me; I’ve loved it since I was a child, when I first smelled it on my grandmother. She passed away this October, a few weeks before her 94th birthday. In a happy coincidence, I happened to come into a vintage bottle of the parfum around the same time. This beautiful, snow-bright powdery rose will always remind me of her.
Coty La Rose Jacqueminot
I’m not sure of the vintage of this one-ounce bottle of eau de parfum, passed on by a dear friend when she moved out of the country – it looks quite old, but smells shockingly fresh and timeless, a delicate yet vibrant rose.
Serge Lutens Boxeuses
I seemed to pass right over Boxeuses when it was first released, perhaps because Bas de Soie, which I hated, came out the same year and I got them confused. I resampled Boxeuses this year while researching licorice notes, and it’s quickly become one of my favorites from Lutens: a gorgeous woody leather with dusky plums.
Caron Eau de Reglisse
Another one I discovered during my licorice binge – I sprayed on my sample and promptly ordered a bottle. I love the contrast of fresh lemon against dark anise and woody patchouli. Since Eau de Reglisse is long-lasting but sits close to the skin, it’s become a favorite for travel days.
Pinrose Treehouse Royal
I was sniffing around the testers for this line carried at Nordstrom and feeling pretty ho-hum about them until I got to Treehouse Royal, an intensely tart blackcurrant and fig that reminds me of my beloved Byredo Pulp, but at a much friendly price.
Home & Body Products
Bliss High Intensity Hand Cream in Snowflake
I went through a tube of this without ever figuring out how they did the scent; it really smells like cold air! It must be some kind of lightly aldehydic musk? Really clever work, and very moisturizing. (Actually, all the Bliss scents are great.)
L’Occitane Velvet Hand Cream in Arlésienne
I’m really impressed with this honeyed rose and violet floral, and the scent of the perfume is true to form in the high-quality body products.
Pacifica Body Wash in Waikiki Pikake
A lush, indolic jasmine scent that made my winter showers smell like summer vacation.
Trader Joe’s Coconut Body Butter
This looks and smells like coconut frosting, is very moisturizing but sinks in quickly, and costs a whopping $5.
Nest Holiday Candles
I bought some of the votives in this scent to give away as hostess gifts this year. They smell AMAZING – such a good balance between tart fruits (orange and blackcurrant) and warm, spicy amber. Beautiful festive packaging too – no gift wrap required.
Horikawa Shoyeido’s River Path Incense
I must thank Victoria for this one! It’s my favorite incense ever – like burning sandalwood in a campfire.
Andy’s 2015 Favorites
I sit down at the end of some years to realize I haven’t cooked as many recipes as I’d hoped to, visited fewer new destinations than I might have, and smelled less than I’d planned. Such shortcomings are perfectly acceptable to me, but this year was an exceptionally fruitful one on all counts, fragrance most definitely included. Here, I joyously reminisce upon the scents that made my 2015 so enjoyable.
Each fall seems to bring me the discovery of a new incense perfume, and this year’s Tauerville Incense Flash was no exception. This is a very dry take on leather, woods, and incense, but it melds and sticks to the skin (and even better to clothes and hair) beautifully. Similarly, I always enjoy a new cologne, and some favorites this year included Frédéric Malle Cologne Indélébile, Mugler Cologne, Bien-Être Eau de Cologne aux Essences Fraîches, and Atelier Cologne Bois Blonds. Another fresh fragrance that caught me totally smitten was the new Bulgari release, Eau Parfumée au Thé Bleu, which I will most certainly purchase at some point in the future, for it delivers upon so many notes I love, like lavender, tea, and iris.
Mimosa and Ambery Roses
While I’m often blasé toward mimosa fragrances, Jo Malone Mimosa & Cardamom was a lovely discovery. Ambery roses had a minor moment for me this year, with Serge Lutens La Fille de Berlin and Estée Lauder Amber Mystique both satisfying my cravings for this sensuous combination.
Teas and Soaps
I’m always on the lookout for great scented products, and several stood out to me this year. Most recently, I’ve been enjoying the season-appropriate Douglas Fir Facial Tonic HydroSoul from Evanhealy, which smells like the whole atmosphere that I imagine surrounds the trees from which this hydrosol is distilled. I had long lamented the loss of one of my favorite teas, Art of Tea’s Jasmine Ancient Beauty Oolong, but this year saw its return, and I’m happy to report that the tea tastes true to the original in spite of the years that have elapsed since its last production. At the recommendations of many, I’ve slowly started exploring the soaps by Nesti Dante, and have especially liked the garden-inspired aromas of their various Horto Botanico soaps.
Smell Bent Pepper Ylang
This is one of my favorites of this year’s releases that I sampled. I fell hard for this perfume, realizing that it was the perfect blend of ylang ylang and sandalwood I once dreamed of as a budding perfume enthusiast. At first, Pepper Ylang seems simple, until the ylang ylang, redolent of banana custard, begins to sizzle with black pepper and the drydown of sandalwood hums with the velvety purr of myrrh. In true Smell Bent style, it’s distinctly quirky in spite of its simplicity, but my favorite thing about Pepper Ylang is just that it’s a true joy to wear.
Guerlain Habit Rouge (Eau de Toilette)
It took the repeated endorsement of so many readers here to finally get around to seeing what all the fuss was about, but now I too have adopted this handsome smelling blend. I stashed Habit Rouge in my bag for a long stay in London and Paris, and it will now and forever smell not of citrus and leather, but of that blissful springtime spent in these two cities.
Patricia’s 2015 Favorites
Although I can’t claim to have kept up with the 2015 releases, I’ve found three fragrances that I can recommend. The first is Hermès, Le Jardin de Monsieur Li, acquired during Sephora’s 20% off sale. Although not especially innovative, it’s a pretty citrusy jasmine, a genre for which I have a weakness. Like Prada’s Infusion d’Iris, I will often turn to it on those days of perfume indecision.
The next two have only been briefly sampled, and I need to spend more time with both. Diptyque Oud Palao impressed me with the high quality of its ingredients. The oud blends seamlessly into rich rose, vanilla, and tobacco notes, and I’m looking forward to exploring it further.
The third, Iris Cendre by Naomi Goodsir, is a rooty, powdery iris with hints of tobacco and incense. It reminds me of Serge Lutens’ Iris Silver Mist, but in a more user-friendly version, and I plan on wearing it often in 2016.
Best wishes to all of you for a happy and fragrant new year!
Photography by Bois de Jasmin