‘I imagine this midnight moment’s forest:
Something else is alive
Beside the clock’s loneliness
And this blank page where my fingers move.’
From ‘The Thought-Fox’ by Ted Hughes
I don’t normally do lists. Even on a day-to-day personal level. They corral and panic me. I realise rationally they assist in the organising of the mind, but I’ve never been one for rules and increasingly my mind has a mind of its own. Age has made me more wary of lists than ever.
I get asked a lot as an olfactive writer about my favourites and not so favourite fragrances. I have always been quite strict with myself about publicly disliking things – I try where I can, not to do it. But sometimes I am obliged to and it hurts. Whatever I may think in private, I prefer to review only on the perfumes I like and admire and usually buy. If I like it the scent enough to buy it, I hope you will too. There are enough vitriolic perfume bloggers out there willing to slash and burn work; I don’t want to do that. At the end of the day, all perfume is subjective and someone somewhere has made it and someone else will wear it. I’m not entirely sure I have the right to be that judgemental.
Of course I come across so much scented stuff I don’t like and wouldn’t wear, but other people will and do. My tastes are reasonably eclectic, I’m no snob, Gucci, Gorilla and Balenciaga sit alongside Mona di Orio, Technique Indiscrète and Oriza L. Legrand. It’s all about how you feel and what you want from life and scent.
2014 has been rich and sensual with a wonderfully diverse and intriguing raft of fragrant launches. I have been writing extensively and carefully as usual for my own Silver Fox blog and posting on my Foxy Facebook page but was also introduced in early 2014 by a mutual friend to Michelyn Camen, Editor in Chief at Cafleurebon and she has been incredibly supportive, inviting me to write regularly for the site and providing me with an intriguing and eclectic array of international perfumes to write on. The schedule is demanding but I enjoy the tightness of the writing challenge and diverse collection of fragrances I have had an opportunity to write about. The community of writers is quite special and the feedback and variety of comments I get on my writing from CFB readers is like nothing else. Michelyn does not censor or dictate, we share an obsessive passion for beautiful scent. She is classic to my indie. She has impeccable taste and ferocious drive.
I am particularly proud of a piece I wrote for the dapper and handsome Helder Suffenplan at Scentury called Les Feux d'Automne. I had wanted to write something for his lovely site for ages, it is one of my go-to blogs for unusual perfumed reading. He gallantly gave me carte blanche on content and has always been very supportive and kind about my foxy writing over the years. So I chose to describe my beloved dark city of Edinburgh and the scents I wear in the autumn streets to match the city’s finest, most haunted season.
My piece for Liam Moore’s wonderfully evolving ODOU magazine (Issue 3, The Interview Edition), The Consolation of Dependency, was one of the best things I have written in a while, an essay ostensibly reviewing Junky by Anais Biguine’s Jardins d’Ecrivains, a unsettling scent inspired by William Burroughs’s cult biographical book. But I also wanted to explore deeper preoccupations with addiction, damage and obsession on a personal level and the odd way many perfume lovers interact with scent. It was not an easy write for me, but I needed to look some demons in the milky unblinking eye.
Writing is an inherently lonely business, reflective and selfish, reliant mostly on one’s own wavering and beleaguered views. I bounce off my friend and muse Mr E, someone who understands the beauty and majesty of scent but is also unafraid to confront the bullshit of obfuscation, reformulation and PR gloss that continues to be thrown over so much of today’s perfume launches. I thought I might get bored of writing on scent, but the sensuality and beauty aroused by some of the work I encounter continues to intrigue and astound me.
One of the things I love most about writing on niche and artisan perfumery is the relationship I have made with brands, creative directors, perfumers and other writers. Many of these wonderful and supportive people I can now call friends and this matters to me more than I really express.
So, I am going to pull together some thoughts on my favourites from 2014, from mainstream, niche and indie houses. I did find one or two really special things this year that burned like supernovas and re-discovered some old favourites again that I had to gather like precious blooms and hide away in my oh so quiet scented foxy study. I hope you like.
Part I is all about the loveliness in the so-called mainstream market. Interestingly Estée Lauder bought up Linda Rodin, Frédéric Malle and Le Labo this year, not so silently acknowledging the growing influence and trend-setting power of certain key niche luxury houses.
In this list are are two of my favourite re-launches of the year. Both French, one a return of a modern classic, the other an intricately reconstructed vintage scent from a stunning antique archive.
I do love mainstream scents, I don’t stray too far from the brightly lit counters and department store halls. Anyone who does is a fool and a snob. You miss so much good stuff, occasional magic, trends being set and the death throes of old giants. I still adore the work of Dior, the Chanel exclusives still wield delicious influence and brands like Parfums Mugler, Chloe, Balenciaga, Cartier and Hermes are creating shimmering olfaction that allow many people a reasonably priced access point into luxurious and intriguing launches.
This year I loved the glowing restraint of Bottega Veneta’s Knot, signed off by the subtle hand of Daniela Roche Andrier. Her diaphanous, iris-based work at Prada, applied here to orange blossom over a white rose and lavender heart was stunning. The rose seemed to murmur vows of celibacy as it sank, satiated into a warm embrace of tonka and trailing musks. The more I wore it the more I noticed the rather fuzzy opaque laundry aroma of just open tumble dryers in the gaps between the floral notes and Andrier’s use of ripe clementine and Italian citrus elements. This oh-so subtle collision of warm machine and bright flooded blossom is beautifully achieved and demonstrates how incredibly rich and diverse so-called high street scent can be in the talented technical hands of perfumers like Andrier. Oh and the flacon is gorgeous too, the name referring of course to the iconic bag and clutch fastening…
Then there was My Burberry. This was a big shock. I have never really paid much attention to Burberry’s schlocky duty free fodder fragrances. I just can’t get my head around a brand with so much money to invest in luxury scent and great noses and yet their output is resolutely generic and unadventurous. The solution. Get Francis Kurkdjian on board - his recent work for Carven and Elie Saab was divine…. Shoot a campaign with Testino, Moss, Delevigne and use the iconic Burberry trench as inspiration for a gorgeous off-white floral centred on rain-soaked sweet peas, freesia and an imagined quince effect. This is perfume that oozes joy and playfulness, a head thrown back in rain kinda insouciance. Kurkdjian really knows his way around white flowers, moulding them into diaphanous and often unexpected shapes to catch the senses unaware. His delicious offbeat work for big name brands IMHO is far better than his own somewhat static line. My Burberry shimmers with dewy dreamy rose as it settles on warm skin, so easy to wear but very forthright and stylish, with echoes of vintage Chanel and Lancôme thrown in or good measure. Another fabulous flacon too, oversize faux horn button lid and a piece of Castleford gabardine tied at the neck of the bottle. A modern classic.
I loved the scented Balenciaga launches under the artistic directorship of Nicholas Ghesquière. Paris, Paris Essence and the wonderfully curious Florabotanica all sit in my collection and I wear them regularly. B Balenciaga was the first new fragrance launch for Balenciaga under the tenure of American designer Alexander Wang. B Balenciaga is a strike out in a more modern, brutalist way as much as high street perfumery can. The violet note of Paris and Paris Essence echoes through this too, but in much greener, snapped vegetal way. Domitille Bertier of IFF has used an edamame pea effect in the top that stays leafy and delicately alien as the notes settle down into the more traditional musky, cashmeran base. A breath of orris blows through the later stages, bringing soft dust and a sigh of glassy light. I like the odd growl of ambrette in the base; just enough to avoid the usual dull fade-off familiar to so many mainstream florals. A risky and perhaps chilly launch for a big name house to be honest, but one of structured charm and difference. Another lovely bottle too, frosted and odd in the hand, inspired by the marble floor in the flagship Balenciaga showroom at 10 Avenue George V in Paris.
It’s no secret to friends and followers alike how much I love Mugler and the inventive way they flanker their touchstone quartet of Angel, Alien, Womanity and A*Men. Each year sees innovative twists and unctuous interpretations of the original formulations, allowing devotees the indulgent illusion of novelty while not straying too far from the classic structures. Using leather, liqueur, gustatory enhancements and cask notes, Parfums Mugler have sought to enhance re-define the boundaries of flankering within an established big name house. This summer saw the release of the carnivalesque Angel Eau Sucrée, signed off by Dorothée Piot, author of Chambre Noire for Olfactive Studio and Amouge Memoir Woman. This playful sorbet portrait of the original mega gourmand smells of frosted red berries, rolled in shattered caramel dusted meringue. There’s a lovely neon macaroon ice cream thing going on that I just adore. It’s as camp as a unicorn’s coming out party with Abba t-shirts and glow-sticks. It’s sometime hard to explain a love of Mugler fragrances; so many people hate them. I’ve given up trying; I’ve decided it’s a twisted addiction. Each to their own, my skin fucking loves the power of maltol and that’s all that matters.
Valentino Uomo by Valentino was one of the only mainstream masculine launches I liked this year. Accompanied by an elegantly shot campaign starring one of my favourite French actors Louis Garrell, star of Ma Mère, Les Chansons d’Amours and The Dreamers. Created by Olivier Polge of Dior Homme fame, I had high(ish) hopes from this and while it didn’t quite reach the same rarefied heights as DH’s haunting dusty androgyny, Valentino Uomo is still beautifully made juice. Essentially a discreet coffee-laced gourmand with woods and amber, it is set apart by Polge’s use of a giuanduja (hazelnut/cocoa) effect in the mix, this is elegantly done, warm and mellow without any of the usual aromachemical sleaziness you often get in men’s sweeter scented offerings. I like the overall smoothness of the scent, the hint of supple leather, some glittering bergamot and weird plasticised cedar. Lovely heavy cut-glass bottle, echoing jewel-cut whisky tumblers, the juice is tinted a pale shimmering golden tea tone, adding to the overall dram in a glass effect. I found the longevity very good although others disagreed. A refined and graceful scent that stood out like blood on snow in the generic saturation of today’s sweaty, dull and interchangeable male scent launches.
I had two favourite re-launches in 2014; one was Jour de Fête, an adorable, comforting essay in amandine brilliance by Olivia Giacobetti originally released by L’Artisan Parfumeur in 1993. This new version smells very similar, perhaps a little sweeter and less milky in the drydown, but still perhaps the most pellucid and gauzy rendering of almonds in the business. I was thrilled to bits it came back. The mix of wedding, patisserie and cyanide fascinates me and Giacobetti’s blending of these complexities with wheat and powdered iris is beguiling and soothing. I like the fragility and soft glow of this moreish scent. Olivia Giacobetti’s work (Hotel Costes, Dzing!, Safran Troublant, Sexy Angélique) has a certain transparent sensibility that makes them deeply alluring to wear. Hush is vastly underrated as an olfactory attribute, but it is one I am becoming more inclined towards. This surreptitious scent of marzipan, frangipane, almond milk, patisserie and apple seed is a welcome re-launch from a troubled house. The more I wear it, the more I recognise genius in these soft, watchful L’Artisan scents like Jour de Fête, Bois Farine, Safran Troublant and La Haie Fleurie de Hameau. I hope they stay and soothe for a while.
My other fave 2014 re-launch was a historic reconstruction, Violettes de Czar, by Oriza L. Legrand, the legendary heritage French house, resuscitated recently by Franck Belaiche and Hugo Lambert. This exquisite house, dating back to 1720, has been tenderly and very successfully revived using archive formulae, original extraits, love and dedication. The original scent was made for the Russian Imperial court in the 1860s and the formula does have a sensual aloofness to it, a haughty tone of high-necked fur and disdain. The violet note is hugely metallic and sweeps across the senses like moody weather. But there is more to it than just the powdered silver of violet. A touch of Russian leather, smoky musks and the most delightful fade of silky heliotropin powder were a fabulous extra as the woods and flowers dissipated. A decadent treat to wear and something that genuinely delighted me.
A late surprise and another riff on violet was Simply Jil Sander by Christophe Raynaud. I saw this pop up on the informative Scent and Chemistry Facebook page and got hooked in by the reference to the echo of vintage Fahrenheit. This will be Jil’s swan song (yes I know she’s bowed out before…) as she finally retires from the fashion house she set up in the late seventies. I have worn and loved a number of her peculiar scents over the years, hard to find and oddly obsessive. Sun and Jil Sander No 4 were my favourites, I went through bottles and bottles of Sun. Simply is simply a wonderful echo of Jean-Louis Sieuzac’s exalted Fahrenheit from 1988 a scent that permeated every sullen fibre and flicked fringe of my pop-drenched 80s’ teenage years. The version kicking about now is a piss poor shadow of the towering violet drenched in a rumoured 14% of MHC (methyl heptyne carboxylate) and the multiple flankers have been occasionally interesting but flicker dully in the fiery glow of the original. But this skilfully assembled scent from Jil Sander offers up a damn fine facsimile of that neutered classic. A little more metallic and brassy in the heart perhaps, but the contemporary violet is veiled in a rather austere leather effect that nonetheless manages to allow an elegant smooth vanillic trace to emerge in the final, mauve moments of drydown. Buy it if you can, it is a bizarre and fascinating perfume.
Part II, coming soon will be musings on my favourite niche and indie scents and the themes that embroidered them throughout the year.
31 December 2014