What a year it's been. Madonna and Gaga clashed in a celebrity scent battle. A little black dress went viral on YouTube. Brad Pitt spouted nonsense about journeys in an attempt to sell No 5. The luxury goods market continued to grow. And the future of perfumery became gloomier than ever, as EU law-makers turned their attention to the controversial subject of allergens. Oh, and a slim tome entitled Le Snob: Perfume was let loose into the world...
As expected, the mainstream branch of the fragrance industry pretty much played it safe, as far as the actual smell of its products was concerned. But the stormy economic climate seemed to have a stultifying effect on the niche world too: most of its creations shied away from boldness and seemed intent on occupying an uninspiring middle ground.
Despite the odd bit of dullness, there were plenty of wonderful compositions to smell, and at least one new brand about which to become genuinely excited. As I did at the end of 2012, I've decided to compile a list of the finest olfactory achievements with which my long-suffering nose came into contact this year. I'm not going to pretend for one moment that I sampled every single new scent that appeared on the market; after all, my name isn't Michael Edwards. So please do bear in mind that what you're getting here is a selection made only from those perfumes which I happened to encounter for the first time in 2012 (or at the very end of 2011). There's every possibility that a few gems may have passed me by. But perhaps I'll come across them in 2013. Mind you, I'm not sure what I would have done if I had smelt any more perfumes. As it is, I found this list very difficult to put together and there are quite a few worthy creations which didn't make the final cut. That's the nature of such exercises, I suppose.
But anyway, enough chatter. Time for a drum roll, please. In alphabetical order, here are Persolaise.com's Best Of 2012:
The Afternoon Of A Faun - Ralf Schwieger (Etat Libre D'Orange)
Regular readers will know that I was completely knocked out by this extraordinary olfactory tableau. Taking its inspiration from the infamous 20th century ballet, and using the divine trinity of bergamot-labdanum-oakmoss as its central axis, Faun harks back to a bygone era whilst remaining modern and relevant throughout its gorgeous development. If only wearing it could make us all as graceful as Nijinksy.
L'Ambre Des Merveilles - Jean-Claude Ellena (Hermès)
Heavens above, a flanker on my Best Of list? Surely not! Never fear: this is no ordinary follow-up. By linking the original Eau Des Merveilles' saline wood construction to an amber as lush and comforting as a velvet cushion, Ellena showed not only that his technical abilities are second to none, but also that he isn't always going to stick to the spare, translucent style for which he's sometimes criticised.
Anima Dulcis - Rodrigo Flores-Roux & Yann Vasnier (Arquiste)
The stand-out creation from the most praiseworthy new brand of recent months.Yes, it's a gourmand, but don't let that dissuade you from trying it if you're not keen on the genre. With its intoxicating blend of cocoa, patchouli, cinnamon, incense and vanilla, it demonstrates that, sometimes, the most sensuous forms of ecstasy are to be found in the unlikely setting of an ancient convent.
L'Heure Vertueuse - Mathilde Laurent (Cartier)
I'm going out on a limb with this one. I'll explain what I mean when I publish a full review of it in a few weeks' time, but for now, suffice it to say that when I smelt it for the first time, I experienced one of the few, jaw-dropping olfactory shocks of the year. Pushing the term 'green' to new heights of photorealism, Vertueuse explores the territory Laurent delved into with Herba Fresca, adds a few touches of Caron's Pour Un Homme and serves up the lot with a panache which makes it one of the bravest compositions of 2012.
Interlude Man - Pierre Negrin (Amouage)
Well, what can I say? When I sprayed this stuff on myself, Madame Persolaise wanted to chew off my arm, her mum wouldn't let go of my wrist and her dad demanded to know where he could buy a bottle for himself. And no, I'm not exaggerating. A dangerously incendiary creation - complete with tar, incense and glowing embers - Interlude Man provides more evidence, if more were needed, that hiring Christopher Chong as their Creative Director was one of the smartest moves the Amouage people ever made.
Loretta - Andy Tauer (Tableau De Parfums)
Andy didn't add any scents to his signature collection in 2012, but he did provide the people at Luckyscent with Lys Du Desert and he also gave his Tableau De Parfums range what must be one of the year's most intimidating beauties. A tuberose with glinting claws and an unreadable gaze, it pulls you into its embrace, whispers wickedness into your ears and then casts you aside when it no longer has any use for you.
Mito - Vero Kern (Vero Profumo)
If only all other perfumers were as patient as Vero Kern. Whilst nearly everyone around her releases a new scent every six months, she appears content to take her time and work at a pace dictated not by market trends, but by the mysterious concoctions brewing in her bottles. As expected, this year's Mito was worth the wait. A detailed, thoughtful representation of an Italian garden - with a narrative arc that moves from day to night - it's a classic 'twilight perfume', suspended somewhere in the haunted regions between myth and reality. How long before we're treated to her fifth revelation...?
Noir - Olivier Gillotin (Tom Ford)
It would be too easy (and unfair) to dismiss this as nothing more than a combination of Guerlain's Habit Rouge and Heritage. There's no doubt that it pays homage to both those scents, but it also possesses a distinct personality of its own, as seen in its pepper note and its elegant restraint. Classy, elegant and tinged with precisely the right amount of sensual femininity, it is easily the best mainstream masculine of 2012. Just don't pay any attention to its inappropriate name.
Oud - Francis Kurkdjian (Maison Francis Kurkdjian)
In a year which saw a depressing dilution of what oud could and should be, Francis Kurkdjian rescued the material's olfactory profile from Cliché Country and gave us this trans-national wonder. He painted his agar wood a particularly animalic shade of brown, stained it white with a touch of aldehydic notes and then made the whole translucent with an injection of well-scrubbed, CK One musks. In short, he proved that it is still worth mining the oud seam, as long as you make an effort to stray from the familiar.
Oud Ispahan - François Demachy (Christian Dior)
After the monumental Leather Oud, Demachy decided the Collection Privée needed a more feminine take on Arabia's trademark ingredient. So he took a fresh, watery rose note, placed it over an amber base and combined it with his own pungent olfactory representation of oud. Granted, the latter owes its power to cypriol rather than agar wood, but that's a minor quibble when you're faced with a creation of such knee-weakening seductiveness. Kurkdjian's Oud takes the genre in a new direction; Demachy's Oud Ispahan shows that old recipes are pretty damn amazing too, when they're well put-together with gorgeous materials.
Séville À L'Aube - Bertrand Duchaufour (L'Artisan Parfumeur)
The year's sunniest release is also one of its most complex. It's a testament to Duchaufour's unwavering skill that he can put together a scent which conveys the simple, unfettered joy of a cologne-like orange blossom whilst simultaneously offering the attentive wearer a wealth of detail and nuance. Smell it and feel the optimism of the dawn work its way into your soul.
Songe D'Un Bois D'Été - Thierry Wasser (Guerlain)
Wasser says he had great fun making Guerlain's 'desert' trio (more on this in a future post) and his enjoyment certainly comes through in Songe, a lecherous and yet oh-so-civilised mix of Dior's Leather Oud, L'Artisan's Al Oudh and Lutens' Muscs Koublaï Khän. His other releases for the house tend to veer towards the conservative, but here he shows that there are quite a few beasts growling beneath his immaculately groomed exterior.
For more lists, please be sure to visit Eyeliner On A Cat, Fragrant Moments and Olfactoria's Travels. And do feel free to let me know - either by leaving a comment on this post or by dropping a line to persolaise at gmail dot com - what your favourites of the year were. Are there any masterpieces which I've neglected to mention here?
Finally, I'd like to wish all of you a very happy new year and to thank you for your support, kindness and encouragement in 2012. Let's hope the next twelve months are peaceful, happy and healthy for all of us.
Persolaise.com is going to be on a mini-break for the next few days, so until I return... here's to a brilliant 2013!