Can you believe that 2013 is coming to a close already? I certainly can’t! It only feels like yesterday that I was sat at my laptop, tapping away at the first reviews of the year and looking forward to the exciting new smells that next 365 days would bring. It has, all-in-all, been a very good year, with lots of interesting new perfumes launched, and on a more personal note too, as this year I took on the exciting role of Fragrance Expert for Escentual.com.
The perfumes have come thick and fast over the year, and once again the industry has seen an increase in the overall number of perfumes launched. Over the year we’ve seen our fair share of masterpieces, duds, flankers and celebrity money makers in, and as with any other year it has been a roller coaster ride of an experience sifting through just a tiny portion of what has been released.
In this post – my annual perfume awards (‘The Candies’) – I’m taking a look at my fragrant highlights of the year and those perfumes that have impressed, moved and surprised me. I’m also highlighting the specific scents that have failed to meet the mark this year and are disappointing enough to warrant naming and shaming. So sit back, don your red carpet gown (or suit), pop the champagne and enjoy The Candies 2013.
[Please also head over to my fragrant brothers and sisters who are sharing their very best perfumes of 2013; Persolaise, Olfactoria’s Travels, Eyeliner on a Cat, Fragrant Moments, Perfume Shrine, I Smell Therefore I Am, SmellyBlog and The Fragrant Man.]
Up until this year I had never been particularly moved by Tom Ford’s Private Blend Collection, instead finding more love for the bolder and more well-rounded scents in his Signature Collection (Black Orchid & Violet Blonde et al), but that all changed with the release of the Atelier d’Orient Collection – an olfactory trip to the heart of the orient with Ford’s contemporary and high fashion approach.
The star of the collection and my ‘Best Niche Feminine of the Year’ is Shanghai Lily – a veritable melange of rubbery lily, sweet tuberose, spicy carnation and a silky veil of vanilla that is almost so beautiful it hurts. An honourable mention must also go to Fleur de Chine from the same collection, a perfume that is essentially Tom Ford’s lighter take on Lanvin’s Arpege – beautiful stuff.
I genuinely thought that I would have nothing to select as my ‘Best Niche Masculine’ this year because it has been a pretty terrible year for the genre. Even Amouage, who can usually be relied on to present an intriguing masculine scent failed to hit the mark this year. So imagine my surprise when Huitième Art’s Monsieur came into my life late into 2013 and won my heart.
Monsieur is a woody fragrance as rich and solid as a mahogany box. It’s spicy and dense, presenting ‘man’ as a complex, brooding and unpredictable character that is an imposing force. What really makes Monsieur so special though, is the fact that it never smells particularly warm, a feature that is surprising seeing as woody scents are rarely ever cold. Monsieur however, is the exception.
The honourable mention for this category goes to a perfume that is technically a unisex scent, but seeing as it has been a pretty naff year for the masculine all round I feel that I can cheat just a little bit. Tom Ford’s Oud Fleur (created by Yann Vasnier) is noteworthy and is an ashen, grey and barren sort of oud that plays up the spicy qualities of the noble rot and osmanthus flower that accompanies it. It is truly arresting stuff.
It may have been a tricky year for the niche masculine but the world of the niche unisex fragrance it has seen a veritable feast of wonderful delights. The standout for me this year was Penhaligon’s Vaara, a perfume created by Bertrand Duchaufour to capture the sights, sounds and smells of Jodphur.
Vaara is an essay in colour and vibrancy, right from the vivid lime green and fuschia pinks of its quince/rosewater opening to the burgundy red of its carroty rose heart and the deep orange of its base of honeyed woods. In true Duchaufour style, this ode to India is a rich tapestry of olfactory cues that comes together perfectly to create a perfume that is both beautiful and effortlessly wearable.
As it has been a very good year for all things unisex (or ‘genderless’ if one prefers), honourable mentions must also go out to; the wonderfully unique texture and taste of Dries Van Noten par Frederic Malle; the cracked emerald leather of Amouage’s Opus VII; and Maison Francis Kurkdjian’s OUD Velvet Mood – a perfume that is evocative of the hot steel and glass against warm sands that is Dubai’s Burj Khalifa.
There have been a number of big perfume launches from mainstream and designer houses this year and by far the feminine standout amongst them is the debut fragrance from Italian fashion brand Marni. Simply called ‘Marni Eau de Parfum‘ (hereafter referred to simply as ‘Marni’), this premiere perfume proved that good fragrances needn’t be dull or even shocking to impress even the most discerning of palates.
Created by Daniela Andrier (the perfumer responsible for pretty much everything decent that Prada has done) and centred around the old perfume staple of rose, Marni displays the red flower alongside tart fruits, cold incense and sharp, thorny patchouli. The result is a vivacious, vibrant and effervescent rose that is perfectly suited to the quirky, cutesy fashions of the house.
Another mainstream feminine that is worthy of attention and an honourable mention is Tom Ford’s Sahara Noir. This stonker of a scent is all about the colliding worlds of incense and amber, creating a whopping perfume that feels two parts Catholic church and one part edible, plush spices. Sahara Noir is perfume writ large at its very best (and loudest) and like all things Tom Ford, it feels just so high-fashion that it hurts.
I faced a very similar dilemma when trying to pin down my favourite mainstream masculine this year as I did with my niche masculine – there simply hasn’t been many noteworthy launches for the guys this year. There is one prominent scent that stick out however, and it comes from Bottega Veneta, a brand that made a splash in to the world of perfumery a few years back with its impressive debut launch for women ‘Bottega Veneta‘.
Bottega Veneta Pour Homme is intriguing because it takes the expertly crafted leather-goods signature of the feminine fragrance and puts it in a outdoors setting. Wonderfully manly ingredients such as pepper and pine are used masterfully to create a perfume that doesn’t really feel like it is a ‘masculine by numbers’ at all. Instead, Bottega Veneta Pour Homme is a perfume for those men that don’t want to smell preened and proper all the time and seek solace in the jagged lines of something more in tune with nature.
Unisex or genderless fragrances aren’t usually the bread and butter of the mainstream world, but every year there does tend to be at least two or three enticing entries that straddle the gender barrier rather nicely. This year for example, we saw three interesting unisex fragrances from Comme des Garçons, each one exploring the idea of the colour of blue in entirely new ways.
My favourite of the three, and more importantly my favourite unisex scent of the year is Blue Encens – a perfume that proves that Comme des Garçons still haven’t finished their painstakingly thorough exploration of incense quite yet. For Blue Encens, textured cinnamon and ginger mixed with the coolness of incense and juniper is used to evoke an icy hue that shows the colour blue in a way that is not aquatic and more like the image of a vast blue sky over miles of expanding grey forest.
Guerlain’s latest addition to their Aqua Allegoria line – ‘Nerolia Bianca‘ – receives an honourable mention for its ode to all that is the orange blossom. It’s a heady concoction that is at once sparkling and fresh as well as rich and honeyed, with a wonderfully alive quality to it, almost as if you can smell the swaying of the trees and the busy activity of the bees. There’s also a touch of something soapy, hinting at a soft cleanliness and the sleepy languor of the summer breeze.
If you told me that I would ever be putting a Givenchy perfume, let alone a flanker to 2011’s abysmal Dahlia Noir, on my annual ‘best of’ list, I would probably have laughed solidly for a minute before slapping you for the audacity of your statement. But as much as it pains me to say it, Givenchy have actually come up trumps with Dahlia Noir L’Eau and it deservedly takes the Candy for ‘Best Flanker’.
What makes Dahlia Noir L’Eau so good is the simple fact that it smells nothing like the original and also because it is a delicate and wispy green scent with more than a few hints of chypre undertones. L’Eau is an essay in pastel shades of green and beige, contrasting floral foliage and soft earth to an accessible springtime perfume with absolutely nothing ‘noir’ about it. If Givenchy had any sense they’d rename and repackage it as its very own perfume. Unfortunately they have none.
Another flanker that made waves for me this year was Le Parfum Intense by Elie Saab. Taking the luminescent honey and orange blossom of the original and shrouding it in velvety pleats of delicious vanilla, Le Parfum Intense makes for an enveloping Floriental experience that is both unique and true to the original fragrance. Perfumer Francis Kurkdjian hits another ball out of the park with this one!
One half of The Candy for ‘Best Celebuscent’ goes to a rather unusual entry this year, namely Byredo’s 1996. Created for and in collaboration with fashion photographers Inez & Vinoodh, 1996 takes inspiration from a lolita-esque portrait taken by the dynamic duo in the year of the same name and the perfume itself, is an odd, off-centre take on Shalimar with a bitter edge.
1996 isn’t the only good celebrity fragrance this year however, and it shares its Candy with a notable entry from the Queen of Burlesque – Dita Von Teese. Dita’s Erotique is her fourth perfume and showcases a dry, spicy sandalwood tinged with leather that truly succeeds in being sexy and much like most of her perfumes is both well crafted and easy on the wallet.
Erotique wasn’t Dita Von Teese’s only perfume launch this year and our honourable mention for this category goes to FleurTeese. Released at the beginning of 2013, FleurTeese is a beautifully buxom and creamy floral that plays on Dita’s love for all that is vintage (floral prints/glamorous cars) and harking back to pristinely turned-out housewives of the 1950s. It’s Houbigant’s Quelques Fleurs for the 21st century.
Not many advertising campaigns have stood out as particularly interesting this year but Versace’s print and TV spots for their new masculine ‘Eros‘ were definitely eye catching (*cough*). The Eros campaign is wonderfully over the top and works so well because it manages to perfectly capture the spirit of the brand in adverts that are as loud, gaudy and obscene as the scent.
The gratuitous man candy doesn’t hurt, either…
‘The Sour Candy Award’ is where I celebrate the worst perfume of the year with an accolade that is feared far and wide across the perfume industry (I may have made that last part up…). Last year the award went to Lady Gaga’s Fame for being utterly bland and not living up to its potential or hype. This year I am handing the ‘Sour Candy’ to Juliette Has a Gun for their truly baffling launch – ‘Anyway‘.
Anyway represents a rapid decline in ingenuity from a brand that started out as a rebellious bridge between niche quality and mainstream prices. It’s a perfume designed to make no impression whatsoever and it is so utterly wimpy (and full of ambroxan) that it is barely perceptible on the skin. Let’s hope that the creative brains over at Juliette Has a Gun wake up and smell the synthetics because Juliette’s gun is starting to rust.
A dishonourable mention must also go to Versace’s Eros – a perfume that has the remarkable/terrifying ability to create a lifelong headache with just one spritz. What really makes the fragrance a true disappointment though, is the fact that it could have been truly gaudy, butch and camp (in true Versace style) in the same way that Chanel’s Antaeus is, instead of the chemically engineered lemon and Godzilla-esque vanilla that it turned out to be. Eros is the perfect example of a missed opportunity.
Join the Discussion!
So that’s it from me for 2013! I’ll be back in the new year with more reviews and fun stuff.
What have been your best/worst perfumes of 2013
Do you agree with my choices?
Please leave your thoughts in the comments box below!
Image 1 via; sandrascloset.com, graindemusc.blogspot.com, versace.com [cropped] & creativereview.co.uk [cropped]. Image 2 via brownthomas.co.uk. Image 3 via selfridges.com. Image 4 via irecommend.ru. Image 5 via manlovescologne.com. Image 6 via vogue.im. Image 7 via m.barneys.com. Image 8 via fragrantica.com. Image 9 via thecandyperfumeboy. Image 10 via escentual.com. Image 11 via allure.ru. Image 12 via luxury-insider.net. Image 13 via douglas.it. Image 14 via tendance-parfums.net. Image 15 via polyvore.net. Image 16 via brigitte.de. Image 17 via; polyvore.com & ronrobinson.com. Image 18 via theunseencenser.com. Image 19 via thecandyperfumeboy. Video via VersaceVideos on YouTube. Image 20 via byoutifulyou.com. Image 21 via gordonsdirect.com.