You have no idea how strongly tempted I was to leave this post completely blank.
As in, there was no best of 2016.
In a year that saw the deaths of so many favorite entertainers as well as a particularly vicious and disheartening political scene in the US, not to mention tragedies the world over, it’s hard to find any “best of.” This was not a great year for me personally, though it did hold some highlights — namely, the birth of my youngest nephew and some great trips to Hawai’i and Belize.
Even where perfume is concerned, I don’t have much to say since I tested few new fragrances this year. According to Basenotes, there were 1580 fragrances (heavens, don’t go check, it’s overwhelming!) released in 2016, of which I smelled maybe a dozen? For what they’re worth, however, here are my thoughts on the new releases I did manage to smell:
Chanel No. 5 L’eau: Well-done, an update that keeps the spirit of the original. But I don’t like it. All that laundry musk! No, thanks.
Eris Parfums Belle de Jour, Ma Bete, and Night Flower: I am a big fan of Barbara Herman’s writing; her book Scent and Subversion is a fun read, and I still read her reviews of vintage classics at Yesterday’s Perfume blog. I was pretty thrilled to hear that she was launching a new fragrance created by perfumer Antoine Lie, and then it turned into three new fragrances described as “vintage floral animalics” and I was even more excited. I really need to give these full reviews. In a nutshell, they’re nicely composed, coherent, throwback in the best kind of way, and yet somehow I didn’t love any of them. (Maybe I need more “floral” in my vintage floral animalics? In any case, it’s not Eris, it’s me.)
Alexander McQueen McQueen Parfum: Luxurious, decadent, wide-load Big White Floral. I like it. I like it a lot, actually, but it’s not exactly reinventing the wheel. If you enjoy this genre, you’ve smelled something close to it before. I already own a buncha BWFs, and the price on this one is high enough to discourage purchase.
LM Parfums Aldheyx: This is your friendly AldeHo here, saying Don’t Bother With This One. I suppose I was thinking this could be something like Iris Poudre, that face-powder-and-maribou-mules fluffy delight. Nope, it’s soap and Conversation Hearts candy, in an old record store swept clean.
Amouage Myths Woman: Sort of a cross between Parfums de Nicolaï Le Temps d’une Fete and Balmain Jolie Madame, both of which I love, with galbanum and narcissus and jasmine over a deep, dry base. The narcissus in this thing is utterly swoony, I tell you. Unfortunately for me, Myths W ends up with more of that early-’70s type vetiver-musk drydown than I’m really comfortable in, and so I don’t adore it the way I do the other two. Very well done, very worth trying if you like narcissus.
Dame Perfumery Soliflores – Gardenia, Narcissus, Rose de Mai: All gorgeous. All relatively short-lived, but quite inexpensive so I don’t mind. The gardenia is almost bleu-cheesy, so beware if you hate that, but it avoids the earthy thing I don’t like. The rose is just plain lovely. The narcissus is truly funky up top, but very quickly moves to narcotic. Wow.
Tom Ford Orchid Soleil – Plasticky cake-batter white floral. Um, no. I mean, it’s kinda genius in a Barbie doll sort of way, but it makes me feel sick.
Maria Candida Gentile Rrose Sèlavy – To be frank, a disappointment. I was expecting the “green notes, May rose, Turkish rose” in the description, but this one is pretty patchouli-heavy and rather bitter with some harsh woods. Boo. On the other hand, a guy could probably carry this one off with aplomb.
Charlotte Tilbury Scent of a Dream – apparently, Charlotte Tilbury is one of those makeup artists who become minor celebrities and then launch their own makeup lines (something like Mary Greenwell, whose first fragrance, Plum, I still love). This was described as a woody floral with pheromones (yeah, right!), and it sounded nice, so I scrounged a manufacturer sample. It’s a lot like Coco Mademoiselle, a patchouli floral, only minus that screechy high-pitched icepick-to-the-eyesocket thing that ruins Coco Mlle for me. It is also unfortunately minus the nice Chanelly drydown, with a metric tonne of Iso-E Super instead. After a period of time, it makes my head hurt. The packaging is terrible, like a plastic reproduction of Depression glass.
Giorgio Armani Sì Le Parfum – the extrait version of the original. It’s another Coco Mlle/La Vie Est Belle/Flowerbomb “pink chypre” clone. I liked Scent of a Dream better, TBH, because it was way less sugary.
I tested a fair number of Alkemia and SIXTEEN92 (indies you can find on Etsy) fragrances as well, too many to name or review individually. All of these were oil-format, and I need to tell you that 2016 was also the year in which I swore off oil-format fragrances forever. My skin is a good deal drier than it was in 2009 when I first started seriously testing stuff, and I find now that oils sink in and don’t radiate scent at all past the first ten minutes. For me, that’s a waste. I’m not even trying with these anymore. (Of course there’s an exception, which is Tauer Rose Delight body oil, which does last for several hours on me and pleases me very much with its gourmand rose during, but maybe the difference is that it is an actual body product rather than an oil-format fragrance?)
I would still like to test these 2016 releases: Masque Romanza (narcissus!), and the rest of the Dame Perfumery Soliflore line, especially Honeysuckle, Osmanthus and Mimosa. Neela Vermeire Rahele sounds like a gorgeous floral. Smell Bent’s Celebrity Garden Party and January are on my radar too. I have samples of the SAVFline (incense) that showed up in my Christmas stocking, as well as one of L’Artisan Natura Fabularis 26 Tenebrae. Penhaligon’s Equinox Bloom(tea, spring flowers) sounds lovely. So does Galop d’Hermes, but I already have Kelly Caleche edp and I’m not convinced I’d need both. I’d like to smell Providence Perfumes’ Love-in-a-Mist, but it’s super-pricey and all-natural, so I won’t test it.
Catching up on the personal stuff: The CEO is in New Zealand at the moment, shepherding eight undergrads and one graduate student/assistant around Lincoln University, near Christchurch, at the very beginning of a two-week short-course study abroad that deals with international trade in agriculture and will cover a goodly portion of New Zealand, from the Haast Pass on South Island to Waiheke Island north of Auckland. This is the trip that I was able to go on the planning trip for, back in July (when it was frigidly cold).
Bookworm is home from Yale and doesn’t return until the third weekend in January. Gaze has returned from his marching band trip to Florida, to perform in the halftime show with several other bands at the Russell Athletic Bowl (the Bears of Baylor University, in Texas, beat the University of North Carolina Tar Heels 49-38). Taz seems to be in that odd stage where he’s visibly growing every single day. I swear, the new jeans I bought him for his birthday in October are too short now.
And I have almost completed one novel, as well as beginning to revise and edit another one. Yay me!
As for perfumes released this past year: I didn’t manage to try even half the 2015 releases that many fragophiles enjoyed. As I’ve said before, my lame testing status is largely due to the fact that I live in the back of beyond, with nary a Scent Bar or Twisted Lily or Arielle Shoshana brick-n-mortar testing site within driving distance. (Please note: Arielle Shoshana is within about six hours’ drive of my house, but less than an hour away from my sister-in-law’s place, so I’m not ruling it out. I hope to get to Northern Virginia SOMEtime this year.)
Another reason I didn’t test a lot of new fragrances was that I wasn’t really tempted by many of them. I always like to get my mitts on a new tuberose, and fresh sparkling aldehydes grab me too, as well as greenies – you know I love my greenies. However, there seemed to be a great number of woodies and Orientals and twists on the traditional cologne formula, and those just aren’t my cup of tea.
Here’s the short list of fragrances mentioned as worthy by some other perfume bloggers – generally mainstream and established niche fragrances, with some indie ones as well – that I did not manage to smell. No brand-new, super-spendy, Eurocentric avant-garde lines like Stephan Humbert Lucas or O’Driu or Xerjoff (okay, that one’s maybe not so “new”), and I also didn’t test much from natural/botanical indie perfumers like Providence Perfumes or Aftelier, either. Oh well. I have become accustomed to the concept that a good part of the parade is going to pass me by, and I’m okay with that. I’ve only got two eyes, anyway. Stuff other bloggers liked that I didn’t even get around to trying (as always, please forgive the lack of diacritical marks): Aedes de Venustas Palissandre d’Or– a woody thingy, i.e. Not My Cup of Tea. Annick Goutal L’Ile au Thé – I had been interested in trying this one, but when somebody calls a Goutal “thin” in a review, it’s sure to be as thin as Kate Moss standing sideways. Arquiste Nanban – an Oriental thingy, really NMCoT. Atelier Cologne Pomelo Paradis – a cologney thingy, NMCoT. Bvlgari Eau Parfumee au Thé Bleu – a twist on Bvlgari’s classic green-tea thingy, which I found boring as heck anyway, so adding a lavender focus was not going to help. SOOO NMCoT. Byredo Rose of No Man’s Land – I’d like to try this one, a woody rose. Just haven’t gotten around to it. Dame Perfumery Scottsdale Dark Horse – a spicy woody thingy. It’s not that I dislike spicy-woody things, but with a bottle of Smell Bent One and a small decant of F Malle Musc Ravageur, I feel like I’ve got my needs covered. That said, Dame Perfumery is doing a terrific job at a low price point, and the world needs it. Dior Feve Delicieuse – With the exception of Cuir Cannage, I’m kind of burned out on Dior creations lately. I like tonka bean, but I just didn’t think I needed to test a frag based on the Delicious Bean itself. Diptyque Florabellio – salty floral thingy, NMCoT. Hermes Jour d’Hermes Gardenia – Should be My Cup of Tea, but I’m not going to risk it after the original Jour went all Sharon-Stone-Basic-Instinct-Icepick-y on me and the Absolu version threatened to boil my bunny, a la Glenn Close in Fatal Attraction. Just not gonna. Hermes Le Jardin de Monsieur Li – I can totally resist nearly every Jean-Claude Ellena fragrance ever created, as they tend to last about 19.2 seconds on me. (Luckily, the only one I really wanted to last on me was Osmanthe Yunnan.) L’Artisan Rose Privee – if I ran across a tester I’d be all over it. Might consider a sample.
Maison Francis Kurkdjian Ciel de GUM – I really would like to try this one. Oddly, I keep seeing it written “Ciel de Gum,” which is a little unfortunate in its wording because it makes me imagine “Bubblicious Heaven.” Actually, it was created for the Russian department store GUM, which used always to be referred to with capital letters in all those Cold War novels I read. In any case, it’s a floral oriental and it’s by Francis K, whose fragrances I tend to have decent luck with. Want – at least to test. MFK Oud Satin Mood – powdery woody rose-vanilla, apparently, which sounds nice. Again, if I ran across a tester bottle I’d definitely give it a shot. Naomi Goodsir Iris Cendre – I have yet to try any scents from this house; they’re expensive, and none of them have appealed on the basis of notes. This is no different. Ashes of Iris? Uh, thanks, I’ll just be over here… um… okay, fine, you caught me, I’m sticking to No. 19 and Heure Exquise for my iris hits. Ormonde Jayne Vanille d’Iris – Again with the iris. Sigh. Papillon Salome – an animalic floral oriental, emphasis on the oriental? Y’all, I can’t even manage Joy! Perfectly well-mannered ladies wear Joy to church and have for decades, where on me Joy smells like post-coital satin underpants worn for three days straight in a heat wave. I think Salome would be a waste of time for me. (I mean, I do wear Memoir Woman, and White Diamonds, which are both pretty indolic. And Salome might surprise me. At the same time, if I have to buy a sample, I know it’s not a good risk.) Puredistance White – Puredistance has had two chances to win me over despite its astronomical pricing, with Puredistance I and Antonia. Both turned out to hide Something Extremely Stabby well underneath their truly gorgeous florals. I have my doubts that either White or Opardu would avoid this problem. Serge Lutens La Religieuse – aspirational pricing, incomprehensible and overly-artsy ad copy, plus jasmine and incense. I just don’t see this one working out, even if it were at export bottle prices. Slumberhouse Kiste– I’m super-glad that somebody is making Slumberhouse perfumes. They all sound utterly fascinating, if risky. At the same time, they’re not composed of notes I find very comfortable and I just never hear the notes list for a Slumberhouse and think, “Ooh, yeah, that would be a winner for me!” Never. Not even this one, which might come closest (peach and pipe tobacco). Tauerville Vanilla Flash– Vanilla. Ehhh. The Body Shop Smoky Poppy – people have been comparing this limited-edition mall-shop scent to Opium, which is practically a skull and crossbones for me. Not just no, but HECK no. The Different Company I Miss Violet – I like violet. Again, if I run across a tester, I’ll jump right on testing this one. Then again, it’s a Duchaufour… dunno.
That was a very long list. Now for some shorter ones, starting with the 2015 releases I managed to test but didn’t like, or was disappointed by, or found lacking in some way. Didn’t like/Disappointed by/Meh: Amouage Sunshine (technically a 2014 release but it didn’t get to the US until ’15) – I liked Sunshine, except… okay, honestly I still can’t quite put my finger on it. It’s so opaque, is maybe the best description. It’s pretty and happy, but I keep getting the feeling it’s hiding something unsavory from me. It’s like that blonde cheerleader who’s relentlessly cheerful, but secretly two inches from getting out a machete and going postal on the varsity squad. I get unnerved before I even hit the drydown. Bogue Maai – I didn’t do a full review of this one, and I really ought to. I really ought to give it a third skin testing, just in case, because what I got out of it was like NOTHING anybody else got out of it. Jungles and big cats and luxurious tuberose? Uh, no. I mean, it was fascinating, with a two-sided clean/dirty, dirty/clean aspect that was not unpleasant, just nothing like I expected. Really cool, except that I am just not okay with smelling like my mechanic cousin Theotis’ bathroom ca. 1978, complete with coal tar soap. (No, not pine tar soap. Coal tar soap – look it up.) Also, I never smelled much tuberose in it, much less any chypre. Bruno Fazzolari Seyrig – I blind-bought a 5ml split of this and expected I’d love it. Aldehydes and rich florals, and a vintage flair? So Me. Except that this one is sitting on a rich amber base that overwhelms the florals too soon and becomes a straight-up ambery oriental within about an hour’s wear. It then stays in the amber mode for five hours, which is So Not Me. Disappointed. Chanel Misia – I should have loved this. I don’t. I did buy a 2ml spray sample and have been spritzing it with abandon, and it is pretty, really pretty. But it is very buttoned-up and aloof and I find that that aspect really bothers me, which is odd because you’d think Misia merely carries on its Chanel heritage. No. 19 is buttoned-up and aloof – but it has a soul. I think that’s it, Misia is silent and empty-eyed, a mere aloof model with not a thought in her head, or if she has thoughts she’s not speaking them to me.
Jean Patou Vacances rerelease – This one isn’t bad at all. Not at all. It’s just that I was hoping for it to be the reincarnation of the 1980s rerelease of the Ma Collection version of Vacances, which is the most perfect and tender lilac scent ever, buttressed as the lilacs are with gentle green leaves. Ma Collection Vacances is, as I just said, basically perfect. This? Just nice. The lilacs are soft and I smell some hyacinth in here too, but hardly any leaves, and the whole thing is sitting on a clean musk that verges on laundry detergent. I suspect the old version had just a tiny smidge of heliotrope, and it’s as missed as the beautiful tender leaves are. I blind-bought a split portion after longing and longing for the rerelease to finally show up, but as Otto says in “A Fish Called Wanda,” I am DISAPPOINTED. Nina Ricci L’Extase – Ecstasy? Uh, nope. No, it’s another Modern Floral with Clean Patchouli. Dull. I probably tried a bazillion more mainstream things that smelled just like it in the Duty Free shop in the Auckland airport last July, but this is the only one I remember.
Sniffery wasn’t allll disappointing, though. There were at least a handful of fragrances I really enjoyed. I Liked: Tauer Perfumes Sotto La Luna Tuberose – I was so, so disappointed in the heaviness of Sotto La Luna Gardenia that I held back on testing this one. However, the Tuberose SLL is just lovely – green and fresh and floral, until it slides into Andy’s signature ambergris base. I’ll be using up the rest of my generous sample, but I don’t feel the need to stock up. Tauerville Rose Flash – Very much like the lovely and super-spendy By Kilian Rose Oud. Not a twin, exactly, but the same jammy rose, the same rich woody vanilla. So very pretty and almost juicy, a simplified rose-vanilla. A mood-lifter. Neela Vermeire Pichola – gorgeous florals, a smidge of spice, a bit of sandalwood… a really pretty drydown… but to me, the whole thing was spoiled by the traditional Duchaufour accent of rotting vasewater. I get that effect a lot with Duchaufours, and I suspect it’s the grade/preparation of his preferred source of vetiver. The fetor only lasted about half an hour, and I seem to be more sensitive to it than many people are, but it’s a jarring note in the middle of something lovely. Teo Cabanel Lace Garden – a BWF gone moderately-sized and a bit restrained; it only overwhelms you with its beauty. This comes the closest I’ve ever smelled to the beautiful and sadly discontinued original Kate Spade fragrance, a mix of gardenia, tuberose, orange blossom, lily of the valley and ylang-ylang. Everything is balanced, but lush. I’m still not sure why I didn’t immediately fall head-over-heels.
And I reeeeeally liked: Penhaligon’s Ostara – I tested this the same week that I tested Pichola, and was mildly surprised to find a great resemblance between the two, not exactly in smell but in feel. Shouldn’t have surprised me; Bertrand Duchaufour composed both of them. In any case, where Pichola had that murky-mucky pondwater fetid thing I get so often in Duchaufour frags, Ostara was just pure happiness. It smells of sunlight and spring, and while it does tail off into a very quiet white musk at the end, I’m so taken by the first two-thirds of it that I can ignore the musk – or spritz something else.
Reader, I bought it. I found it on a 40% off sale at Haute Look and snapped it up for my own Christmas present. (Usually The CEO gets me to pick out something for myself. This year he actually bought me a gift, a nice ceramic vase for flowers, so the Ostara is waiting for my January birthday.) Eric Buterbaugh Apollo Hyacinth – Green, cool, fresh and floral, a floral with backbone, a wonderful blending of bloom and stem, softness and strength (though not big sillage). Lasts for hours. Perfectly unisex. I have been avoiding buying any more Buterbaugh samples lest I fall desperately in love, because they are desperately, desperately pricey.
Here is to a fragrant and successful 2016! Wishing you and yours a year full of good things.