The Candies 2014: The Very Best and Very Worst Perfumes of 2014

The Candies 2014
The Candies 2014: The Very Best and The Very Worst Perfumes of the Year

Wow, what a whirlwind of a year 2014 was. The perfume industry has, as always, been nothing short of prolific in its output, with new brands popping up all over the place and the same big names releasing perfume upon perfume, and flanker upon flanker. It has, once again been a very busy year, and the hive of activity within the industry has meant that a great number of wonderful new olfactory treats have been unleashed on the noses of perfume lovers and consumers.

For me, this year has been one of great personal significance. In March I won my first Jasmine Award for my Guide to Violet, and shortly after in May, my best buddy and I tied the knot, only a few days before I presented an award at the Fragrance Foundation Awards. Then in August I was promoted at work, and in September my new husband and I headed off to Tokyo for the honeymoon of a lifetime. In short, it has been a fantastic year and one that will always remain truly in my heart as one of the very best.

To celebrate 2014 from a fragrant perspective, I present to you ‘The Candies 2014’. Those of you who have followed The Candies before will know that they are my annual perfume awards, celebrating the very best, and the very worst perfumes of the year (out of the 147 scents I have reviewed in 2014). Under the jump you will find the winners, losers and honourable mentions filed under neat little categories. So please, don your tux or ball down, break open the Bolly and take your seats for The Candies 2014.

[Also, please don’t forget to head on over to my dear perfume pals, Persolaise and Perfume Shrine, who are both joining me in sharing their ‘best of’ lists today.]

Best Niche Feminine: féminin Plural by Maison Francis Kurkdjian
Best Niche Feminine: féminin Pluriel by Maison Francis Kurkdjian

When I reviewed Maison Francis Kurkdjian’s féminin Pluriel way back in July, I instantly knew that it was a strong contender for the Candy for Best Niche Feminine Fragrance, and my opinion hasn’t changed. When creating féminin Pluriel, perfumer Francis Kurkdjian said he wanted to capture “the essence of femininity in perfume” and he did so by creating a contemporary floral-chypre that looked back at the classics, as much as it looked forward. The result is a breathtakingly beautiful floral that is exceptionally blended with rosy-sweet and iris powder facets over a modern chypre base of chocolate-y patchouli.

féminin Pluriel isn’t just a beautiful fragrance, it’s also quite moving. Smelling it, one pictures a fragility that is not often seen in modern perfumes. I imagine it as a soft ballet shoe, coloured in a subtle nude pink. This is an instrument of art, one that creates exceptional lines and human shapes, but in its purest form is a delicate object of infinite beauty.

Earning the first honourable mention in the word of Niche Feminine Fragrance is Penhaligon’s tremendous Tralala. Tralala, with its blend of white flowers whisky and leather, is quirky to say the least, an oddball even, but it also has a whimsical character that sits somewhere comfortably between childish innocence and unsettling adulthood.

On the less odd side, there was Elie Saab’s delicious Essence Nº1: Rose, another Francis Kurkdjian creation and an instalment into the brand’s new exclusive collection. Essence Nº1 is a fully gourmand rose that delicately folds rose petals into smooth waves of cream. It’s beautiful AND delicious.

Honourable Mentions: Tralala by Penhaligon's & Essence No.1: Rose by Elie Saab
Honourable Mentions: Tralala by Penhaligon’s & Essence Nº1: Rose by Elie Saab
Best Niche Masculine: masculin Pluriel by Maison Francis Kurkdjian
Best Niche Masculine: masculin Pluriel by Maison Francis Kurkdjian

Taking the Candy for Best Niche Masculine Fragrance is féminin Pluriel’s male counterpart, masculin Pluriel. Where the féminin of the species told a modern story through the classic fragrance styles of floral and chypre, the masculin opts for that most manly of genres – the fougére. But masculin Pluriel is not just another soapy, barbershop fougére, not at all, instead it is much more rugged. This Pluriel uses lavender, but avoids soapiness by pairing it with rough woods and spices. The result is a handsome and sexy masculine fragrance that still wears a tux, but is likely to arrive on a motorbike rather than in a stretch limo.

Another good Niche Masculine this year was Penhaligon’s Bayolea, the signature fragrance for the British fragrance house’s new grooming range. Bayolea is a traditional masculine scent containing lavender, citrus, woods and moss, that brings the genre firmly up to date. To quote my original review: “It wont set any hearts on fire as something wildly original, but it does smell pretty darn good and serves as a respectful nod to the Penhaligon’s masculines of the past.” Bayolea is a worthwhile masculine for any gent looking to smell well groomed.

Honourable Mention: Bayolea by Penhaligon's
Honourable Mention: Bayolea by Penhaligon’s
Best Niche Unisex Tobacco Rose by Papillon Artisan Perfumes
Best Niche Unisex: Tobacco Rose by Papillon Artisan Perfumes

2014 will go down as the year of the independent perfumer, and quite rightly so. Brands such as Sarah McCartney’s fascinating 4160 Tuesdays have garnered much attention this year and have proved that ingenuity, artistry and quality can exist within intriguing perfumes that don’t cost the Earth. They could teach some of the big players a thing or two, that’s for sure.

One indie brand that burst on to the scene this year was Papillon Artisan Perfumes, the brainchild of self-taught perfumer, Liz Moores. All three of Papillon’s debut scents are beautiful (and very much worth sniffing), but to me Tobacco Rose is the standout. This is a rose that turns the genre on its head by showcasing intriguing little inflections, such as geranium-freshness and bloody-metallicness.

Tobacco Rose takes the award for Best Niche Unisex Fragrance for two reasons, firstly; it serves as a refreshing reminder that artisan fragrance can come with no gimmicks whatsoever (a fact that many in the perfume industry could do with knowing); and secondly because it was the fragrance that my husband wore on our wedding day. Tobacco Rose is therefore, a very special fragrance, but it’s also an exceptionally crafted one that turns the world of rose firmly on its head.

As for the honourable mentions, I must admit that it has been difficult to narrow this particular category down, due to the simple fact that there has been a good slew of niche unisex fragrances this year. My favourites include; the wispy salted caramel of Jo Malone’s Wood Sage & Sea Salt, the butch and vintage patchouli of Tom Ford’s Patchouli Absolu, the multifaceted and transparent vanilla or Arquiste’s The Architects Club and the sticky marmalade of Etat Libre d’Orange’s squeaky clean Cologne.

Honourable Mentions Unisex Niche
Honourable Mentions: Wood Sage & Sea Salt by Jo Malone, Patchouli Absolu by Tom Ford Private Blend, The Architects Club by Arquiste and Cologne by Etat Libre d’Orange
Best Designer Feminine: NARCISO by Narciso Rodriguez
Best Mainstream Feminine: NARCISO by Narciso Rodriguez

Narcisso Rodriguez’s NARCISO is easily the standout Mainstream Feminine launch of 2014. Initially when I tried it, I think my response was positive but not overwhelmingly so. Now that I’ve spent a good number of months with the fragrance, it has become a regular staple for me. It’s a masterfully complex fragrance that manages to create the impression of a minimalist, and abstract gardenia, but places it within a vast white space to give the impression of great size and diffusion. Let’s just call it a masterpiece, shall we?

Of course, NARCISO isn’t the only decent Mainstream Feminine fragrance to have graced our noses this year. Most notably, there was Acqua di Parma’s Rosa Nobile, a fresh, dewy rose so pretty and delicate that one smells it and imagines a strikingly photorealistic bouquet of blush pink blooms. It’s definitely as pretty as it sounds and an absolute must for any rose-lover.

There was also Calvin Klein’s Reveal, a woody-citrus fragrance that spoke in tones similar to Thierry Mugler’s Womanity however, in a more commercialised (and quite surprising) manner. Also, we musn’t forget Cartier’s La Panthère, which showcased a purring house cat of a gardenia that was sharp and bright like the sun. All-in-all, it’s been a good year for feminine launches.

Honourable Mentions Designer Feminine
Honourable Mentions: Rosa Nobile by Acqua di Parma, Reveal by Calvin Klein & La Panthère
Best Designer Masculine
Best Mainstream Masculine: L’Homme Idéal by Guerlain

Unusually, things have also been quite positive on the masculine side of the aisles too. Guerlain launched L’Homme Idéal, their first masculine fragrance since Homme in 2008, and it’s safe to say that it’s a good ‘un. Taking the Mainstream Masculine Fragrance Award, L’Homme Idéal is so good because it harks back to the robust woody masculines of the ’80s, whilst simultaneously offering a cheeky nod to Guerlain’s popular La Petite Robe Noire in the form of a cherry/anise amaretto accord. This is a distinct and easy-to-enjoy masculine fragrance with a great sense of humour – all told via Guerlain’s inimitable gourmand style.

The honourable mentions within this category go to a trio of fragrances that each tell a different story of masculinity. Valentino’s Uomo is a refined take on Dior’s classic Homme that pairs suede and iris with Italian gourmand notes to give the impression of an elegant yet decadent man, whilst DSquared2’s WILD showcases delightfully easy-breezy citrus and wood notes to give the idea of a handsome outdoorsy type. Finally, Lalique’s Hommage à l’Homme Voyageur presents the idea of the ocean told through metallic resins and spices, in a manner that is beyond sexy. So, in short, it hasn’t been a bad year for masculine fragrances either.

Honourable Mentions Designer Masculine
Honourable Mentions: Uomo by Valentino, WILD by DSquared2 & Hommage à l’Homme Voyageur by Lalique
Best Mainstream Unisex: L'Orpheline by Serge Lutens
Best Mainstream Unisex: L’Orpheline by Serge Lutens

The world of Mainstream Unisex fragrances is a tricky one, due mainly in part to the fact that more accessible fragrances tend to be categorised as either masculine or feminine, and many brands don’t offer scents that cross both sides of the aisle. That said, some brands do indeed offer unisex fragrances and Serge Lutens is one good example. Uncle Serge’s intriguing L’Orpheline is, as all things Lutens are, a most tricky perfume to pin down. It presents the familiar note of lavender, but in an unfamiliar way, accenting it with mint and crackling spices, to create a shapeshifting fragrance that keeps one firmly on their toes. For that reason, L’Orpheline is awarded the Candy for Best Mainstream Unisex Fragrance.

Also impressing me on the unisex side of things this year was Acqua di Parma’s Ginepro di Sardegna and Serge Lutens’ Laine de Verre. The former is a the olfactory equivalent of a hike through grey, rocky Italian mountains, all told through bracing juniper notes, whereas the latter is an unsettling ode to loft insulation (yes, you read that right), that through musk and citrus, presents the idea of waterlogged cotton, and firmly sets one’s teeth on edge. Both are fascinating.

Honourable Mentions Mainstream Unisex
Honourable Mentions: Ginepro di Sardegna by Acqua di Parma & Laine de Verre by Serge Lutens
Best Flanker
Best Flanker: Angel Eau Sucrée by Thierry Mugler

Flankers are often seen as the scourge of the perfume industry. They are on too many occasions, recycled ideas put in familiar packaging and under known names, in order to make a quick buck. Not all flankers are created equal though, and it would be fair to say that some are more than just a speedy way to package a fragrance. Thierry Mugler is one brand that knows how to do a flanker and this summer’s limited edition of Angel, Angel Eau Sucrée, is a perfect example of a flanker done right. Done so right in fact, that it takes the Candy for Best Flanker.

Angel Eau Sucrée takes the signature of Angel, i.e. the fresh dewberry up top and the chocolate, caramel, patchouli and vanilla from underneath and dials it down, adding waves of raspberry meringue. This creates a fragrance that is instantly recognisable as Angel but is also simultaneously different. The raspberry meringue accord is almost photorealistic and it adds a sugary freshness that is missing from the original fragrance, making Eau Sucrée a very worthy flanker. I just hope that Mugler has the sense to make it a permanent addition to the lineup.

This year, I also enjoyed Jean Patou’s Joy Forever, a ‘younger’ take on the brand’s classic fragrance, Joy, that was created in the same vein as Guerlain’s Shalimar Parfum Initial and Chanel’s Nº5 Eau Premiere. Joy Forever is younger yes, but to my nose it was born in the ’80s, and its aldehydic bouquet of white flowers is hard to resist. Also setting my flanker fires alight this year was Mugler’s A*Men Pure Wood, which is, you guessed it, a woodier taken on A*Men. What you may not have guessed is that it is really very sexy.

Honourable Mentions Flanker
Honourable Mentions: Joy Forever by Jean Patou & A*Men Pure Wood by Thierry Mugler
Best Celebuscent: Eau de Gaga by Lady Gaga
Best Celebuscent: Eau de Gaga by Lady Gaga

Two years ago, Lady Gaga’s debut fragrance, Fame, won the Sour Candy Award for worst fragrance of the year. The award was given because, for such an innovative and daring artist, Lady Gaga’s first fragrance was a complete dud that was entirely derivative of just about every other celebrity fragrance out there, not to mention the fact that it ‘borrowed’ a number of packaging ideas from niche fragrances. So, imagine my surprise when her second fragrance, Eau de Gaga, is released without any fanfare and turns out to be really rather good.

It would be fair to say that it hasn’t been a spectacular year for celebrity fragrances, but Eau de Gaga with its fizzy citrus, flowers and woods tops the bill as a rather daring entry into the celebuscent market. Eau de Gaga is nicely composed, unisex, and most of all, smells really good. I’m not sure I’d go running out to buy a bottle, but I certainly wouldn’t turn my nose up at one.

Taking the honourable mention in the Celebuscent category is G I R L, the collaboration between musician Pharrell Williams and iconic fashion house Comme des Garçons. Pharrell’s G I R L is a woody lavender that feels sharp, angular and devoid of sweetness. It also feels entirely Comme des Garçons-esque, and whilst it may not present anything particularly new in terms of fragrance style, it is unique for a celebrity fragrance.

Honourable Mention Celebuscent
Honourable Mention: G I R L by Pharrell Williams X Comme des Garçons
Best Ad Campaign
Best Ad Campaign: TOY by Moschino

In all honesty, Moschino’s latest launch, TOY is a bit of a befuddling affair. On the one hand it is a stroke of genius – perfume packaged inside a cuddly teddy bear, I mean, what could be better? On the other, the fragrance, whilst passable, does feel like a complete afterthought to that wonderful packaging. TOY is all about the image, Jeremy’s Scott (Moschino’s Creative Director) image, so it will come as no surprise that the fragrance takes the Candy for Best Ad Campaign because, let’s face it, one cannot look at the image above and not smile!

Sour Candy
The Sour Candy Award: Black Opium by Yves Saint Laurent

The Sour Candy Award is handed to the worst fragrance of the year. For 2014, this fragrance is inarguably Yves Saint Laurent’s Black Opium. Now, Black Opium isn’t a dreadful fragrance (not that I think it’s a particularly good one, mind) but it is boring and pointless. Any perfume that bears the iconic ‘Opium‘ name should at least have something in common with the original, and most definitely shouldn’t have the audacity to be a syrupy liquorice mess that verges on being utterly obnoxious.

Yves Saint Laurent have created some of the greatest fragrances in the world – scents like Opium, Paris, Rive Gauche, Kouros, M7 and Nu. Black Opium is not one of them. It is so bad, in fact, that Saint Laurent Paris’ Creative Director, Hedi Slimane issued a press release distancing himself from the fragrance and its advertising campaigns. That’s not a good sign for Black Opium, but it is a sensible move on Slimane’s part. I know for a fact that I’d want absolutely nothing to do with it either.

The Favourite Things Award: Rive Gauche by Yves Saint Laurent & The Sexiest Scent on the Planet. Ever. (IMHO).
The Favourite Things Award: Rive Gauche by Yves Saint Laurent & The Sexiest Scent on the Planet. Ever. (IMHO).

Finally, in a new award for the 2014 Candies, I’d like to celebrate my favourite fragrant discoveries of the year. These are fragrances that haven’t launched this year, but have been significant loves for me over the least 12 months. The first of these discoveries, and the first recipient of my Favourite Things Award, is Yves Saint Laurent’s Rive Gauche. Rive Gauche, with its sweet aldehydes and metallic, dusty rose, is so evocative of a time and a place that it acts as much as an olfactory time capsule, as it does a beautifully wearable fragrance. Sniffing it, one is transported to a cafe on the fashionable Left Bank of Paris in the late 1970s. A fabulous time for fragrance and fashion.

The other recipient of this year’s Favourite Things Award is 4160 Tuesdays’ The Sexiest Scent on the Planet. Ever. (IMHO). It was at one of the brand’s Wall of Scent events, masterfully hosted by perfumer Sarah McCartney, that I came across The Sexiest Scent and it instantly became a complete favourite. This fragrance so simply pairs bergamot, Iso E Super, Vanillin and Cedar, to create a second skin that gives the impression of Earl Grey tea, lemon meringue pie and creme brûlée. Having discovered this fragrance, I would now never be without a bottle.

Join the Discussion!

What are your best and worst fragrances of 2014?

Let me know in the comments box below!

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