How is it the end of 2015 already? Seriously, I feel like things were only getting started! Anyway, seeing as it is very nearly the end of the year it can only mean one thing: The Candies! That’s right, it’s now time to take a look back at 2015 to identify the good, the bad and the downright ugly perfumes of the year. As always, it has been an active year for the industry and we’ve seen some great stuff. We’ve also seen some pretty dreadful stuff as well. It will make for exciting reading, I’m sure,
This year, I’ve done a bit of tinkering around with the awards we have on offer. Most have stayed the same however, we have said goodbye to the Best Celebuscent Award because really, celebrity fragrances appear to be on the out and I honestly don’t think I’ve even reviewed one this year. We’ve also said goodbye to the Best Advertising Campaign Award which has now been replaced with the Best Top-Down Design Award, an accolade that celebrates those perfumes that get the juice, bottle and advertising spot on. Finally, I’ve also added a new award this year for Best New House, which aims to highlight the best new fragrance brand launched within the year. Other than that all is the same.
So without further ado, ladies and gentleman of the perfume loving community, please take your seats, adjust your undergarments and fix your weaves as we are about to commence The Candies 2015. We require silence within the auditorium, selfies are banned and everyone must be suitably perfumed. Them’s the rules. There will be snark, there will be gushing sentimentality and there will be more hyperbole than you can shake a stick at, so gird your loins, dear readers, and get ready for the alternative perfume awards!
Also, please be sure to head on over to Persolaise’s blog to check out his round-up of perfume in 2015.
I always start thing about The Candies midway through the year, often predicting in my head where certain scents will end up. Will they top the list in their respective categories, or will they be dumped on the Sour Candy pile? Most of the time things change and move about as the year moves on, but the true stars stake their claim on their prize pretty early on. When I first tried Salome, I knew that it would be a hard contender to beat for Best Niche Feminine and clearly, Salome has managed to stay at the very top of the category right until the end of the year.
Why is Salome better than any other niche feminine launched in 2015? Well, the answer is simple: Salome is fearless. In today’s modern, sanitised society, Salome is a beacon of filthy that firmly states that she is a fragrance that does not care whether she offends, in fact, she secretly hopes that she does. When Luca Turin smelled Salome at a recent event hosted by The Perfume Society, he copped a wry smile and sarcastically called her a “demure little thing”. He said what we were all thinking. Salome is a wonderfully old school floral that packs an animalic punch. Thank God that perfumer Liz Moores had the audacity to launch such a thing in 2015.
Other noteworthy niche feminines launched this year include En Voyage Perfumes’ Frida and Maison Francis Kurkdjian’s À la Rose. Frida paired tuberose with watermelon to create an offbeat chypre that feels as complicated and gender-bending as the artist from which it takes its name and inspiration. The Kurkdjian wasn’t quite as unique, but it does display a perfect bouquet of pink roses in all their glory, containing a vast array of rosy facets, from jammy sweetness to sharp citrus. Both piqued my interest this year and therefore must receive honourable mentions!
Unlike Salome, my top pick for Best Niche Masculine only came to me in the last few weeks of the year. What’s more, it comes from a brand that I’d had no real prior experience with making for an eyeopening experience all round. That scent is The Orchid Man by Frapin and it’s most definitely one of the nicest masculine fragrances I have smelled in a long time. Inspired by the French boxer Georges Carpentier (also a restaurateur and star of stage, and screen), specifically the clash of elegance and violence he embodied with his forays into combat sport and the orchid boutonniere he wore with his suits, The Orchid Man is a soft yet fizzy blend of bergamot, jasmine and leather that feels refined but also remarkably active. I love it and I think it’s a modern classic in the making.
On the honourable mentions front in the niche masculine category we have Sunshine Man from Amouage and Noir Extreme by Tom Ford. The Amouage takes the sexiest masculine note (lavender) and celebrates all that makes it sweet, warm and smoky by pairing it with immortelle, amongst many other things. It’s a sunny, intimate and warm composition that is effortlessly easy to wear and slightly unusual for Amouage in its buoyancy. Noir Extreme on the other hand is a completely Tom Ford creation from top to toe and from the very first sniff one can identify the DNA of the brand. Noir Extreme shares little with the plush Shalimar-esque powder of the original and instead, opts for amber and kulfi as its key components. As different from Noir the Extreme may be, it certainly smells darn good!
Oooh, this category was a toughie. There were three real standouts for Best Niche Unisex this year, not to mention a handful of decent offerings that kept my nose on its toes. In the end I had to go for Editions de Parfums Frederic Malle’s Cologne Indélébile as Best Niche Unisex Fragrance. For me, Cologne Indélébile embodies everything that is respectable about the Frederic Malle brand, specifically its thirst for creating the very best examples of fragrance possible using the highest quality ingredients and by the hands of the world’s greatest perfumers. With Dominique Ropion on board once again, Malle has created a long-lasting and diffusive eau de cologne that sings with unending freshness. It is a vibrant and metallic affair that takes a classic style and makes it thoroughly modern. In short: an amazing piece of work.
The two fragrances tie-breaking for the honourable mentions spots are Panorama by Olfactive Studio and Pichola by Neela Vermeire Creations. Panorama is definitely the most unusual fragrance of the year, due in part to its smorgasbord of greenery that is sweet, sour and fascinating. It’s also noteworthy because of its wasabi accord, which I don’t think we’ve seen before, not to mention the fact that it fits perfectly with its inspiration, the Miguel Sandinha photograph of the legendary Sheats Goldstein house in Los Angeles, California. Speaking of fragrances that meet their inspiration, Pichola, with its vibrant cerulean take on tuberose is a rich floral with aquatic depth that feels perfectly aligned with the exotic lake from which it takes its name. It also represents yet another triumph from the pairing of Neela Vermeire and perfumer Bertrand Duchaufour.
Much like our Best Niche Feminine this year, the award for Best Mainstream Feminine has been a dead cert for quite some time, despite its strong competition (more of those in a mo). For me, Azzedine Alaïa’s debut fragrance, ALAÏA Paris is easily the Best Mainstream Feminine launched in 2015. Inspired by cold water hitting hot chalk, ALAÏA Paris is a masterfully elusive composition that switches between hot and cold, and familiar and unique with regularity. It uses pepper, incense and cold white flowers, over a bed of skin-like musk. Much like Alaïa’s designs, ALAÏA Paris is a structured and sculptural piece of work that must be admired.
My two other favourite mainstream feminines this year, and the two taking the honourable mention spots, are opposing forces. In the first sport we have Miu Miu’s eponymous scent ‘Miu Miu‘ (another long-awaited debut), which is a baby blue number that takes inspiration from 1970s classics such as Rive Gauche, replacing the aldehydes of the YSL with pepper and the metallic rose with creamy muguet. The result is a throwback floral that is retro but also incredibly modern. The second honourable mention goes to Paco Rabanne’s Olympēa, a ‘filbertone’ floral that takes strong cues from Mugler’s Womanity with its salty/nutty wood accord, which is nestled comfortably amongst pulpy pink citrus fruits and shampoo-esque floral. Olympėa isn’t as weird as the Mugler, but it is pretty unusual for a Rabanne scent and shows that there is hope for interesting things within the mainstream.
The Best Mainstream Masculine category is always a tricky one. More often than not, the masculine compositions with the mainstream are bland at best, and diabolical at worst. This year however, there have been a good few masculine fragrances in the designer arena that have piqued my interest. Most notably is Dunhill’s ICON, which takes the award for Best Mainstream Masculine. I admire ICON because it takes some of the familiar traits of masculine perfumery (lavender, spices, woods etc.) but utilises them in intriguing ways. Its spice is a sticky cardamom syrup, rather than dry powder, and its lavender is rich caramel as opposed to being herbaceous. All of this is supported by smoky woods and warm leather and creates a striking fragrance that is handsome and stands out from its contemporaries.
One honourable mention in the Best Mainstream Masculine category has to go to L’Homme Idéal Cologne, Guerlain’s first follow-up to last year’s L’Homme Idéal (which took the Best Mainstream Masculine Award in last year’s Candies). The Cologne version strips out all of the weighty, woody notes, leaving a bitter almond accord that is accented by a hefty dose of grapefruit-flavoured sherbet and a touch of something vodka-like. The result is a molecular mixologist’s creation that is effortless to wear. We now move from the sublime to the ridiculous for the second of honourable mention: A*Men Ultra Zest. Much like L’Homme Idéal Cologne, Ultra Zest strips back a lot of its forebears composite parts and replaces them with something intriguing. In Ultra Zest’s case the intrigue comes from a juicy dollop of bitter marmalade that melts perfectly into the vanilla and patchouli of the base. It’s a bit hispterish, but cool enough to be forgiven.
The award for Best Mainstream Unisex fragrance goes to Mimosa & Cardamom by Jo Malone London. Coincidentally, I think that this may just be my favourite launch of the year overall. Mimosa & Cardamom’s greatness is two fold: firstly, it places the slightly out of fashion note of mimosa front and centre in a mainstream fragrance, celebrating all of its milky, pollen-like goodness; and secondly, it highlights an ongoing trend at the house for creating subversive yet relatable scents that wear like a second skin (see Wood Sage & Sea Salt and Rain & Angelica). When wearing Mimosa & Cardamom I not only feel comforted by its milky texture, which is simultaneously cold from the mimosa and warm from the cardamom, but I also feel transported to an exotic market with stalls filled to the brim with fresh flowers and spices. It’s utterly divine.
In terms of the brands showcased within the honourable mentions for this category, I could not have picked two more opposing. On the one hand with have Hermès with Le Jardin de Monsieur Li, a house addicted to quality and a distinct style created by a legendary perfumer, and on the other we have adidas ORIGINALS by Jeremy Scott, which appears, on the surface at least, as a case ofstyle over substance. In truth, both fragrances are great. The Hermès is clear and transparent in Jean-Claude Ellena’s inimitable style, and it possesses a wonderfully radiant plastic-jasmine note that really does smell fascinating. The adidas is also intriguing, and not just because it’s packed inside a winged sneaker, but because it is an active rose with lots of sour grapefruit and sweaty cumin spice. Unlike most things adidas have done in the past, ORIGINALS x Jeremy Scott is really well-executed and exciting to wear. The fact that Maurice Roucel was the perfumer makes sense!
The flanker is to perfume what the sequel is to film. Sometimes the follow-up can be just as good, if not better than the original, but more often than not the sequel is a dud. In this award we celebrate the best of flankers from the year – those that meet or surpass the standards set by the originals. Taking the top spot for Best Flanker in 2015 is Lalique’s Encre Noire À L’Extrême – a follow-up to 2006’s Encre Noire. What makes L’Extrême so good is its raw earthiness and harsh saltiness, both of which work very well with the honeyed tones within its base. Despite the ruggedness these facets portray, L’Extrême actually feels very smooth, thanks to a touch of iris in the heart. Great stuff for guys, this.
Honourable mentions for flankerisation go to Thierry Mugler for Alien Oud Majestueux and Dior for J’adore Touche de Parfum. The Mugler may, on the surface, illicit sighs of “really, another bloody oud?” (not even Mugler are safe from oud), but the addition of smoky, leather-centric oud to the galactic jasmine of Alien actually works very well and the whole thing smells very ‘Middle Eastern bling’ and surprisingly masculine, if not gaudy and unrefined (in a good way, obv.). On the more refined front is Dior’s J’adore Touche de Parfum, an oil-based version of J’adore that amps up its symphonic floral section (tuberose and jasmine) making the whole thing more tropical and appearing to be dripping in gold. It’s also incredibly versatile and can be worn solo or under other fragrances as a base layer.
To borrow a phrase from Luca Turin, the new award for ‘Best Top-Down Design’ celebrates a fragrance that gets it right on all levels, specifically; juice, packaging and advertising. It doesn’t aim to pick out the best smelling fragrance of the year, instead looking to point out the fragrance that hits the mark as a concept. For 2015 the award goes to Fresh Couture by MOSCHINO, which sees a fine fragrance (a perfectly decent citrus-floral) packaged within a functional bottle (a bottle of household cleaner). The packaging is kitsch and it’s fun to see a wearable fragrance carried in such a manner, but the advert is what clinched the deal here – Linda Evangelista? Housemaid couture? I’m all over that. It’s fierce. Bravo to MOSCHINO and Jeremy Scott.
With all of the new brands popping up each and every day it can be hard to keep up. Our new award for ‘Best New Brand’ aims to celebrate those that have an interesting concept backed up by substantially decent fragrances. The standout new brand for me this year was most definitely Perfumer H, the latest enterprise from perfumer Lyn Harris, formerly of Miller Harris. What I like about Perfumer H is just how organically it came together and also how it offers a seasonal wardrobe of fragrance – something that no other brand does. What’s more, the fragrances Harris has created for Perfumer H are very good indeed and the house fits one of the very few niches left within the perfume industry. I look forward to seeing what Perfumer H does in 2016.
Finally we come to the Sour Candy Award – the award that celebrates the absolutely worst perfume of the year. There are many fragrances I could have picked for this. I could have, for example, opted to go for the Eau de Toilette version of Black Opium, last year’s recipient of the Sour Candy, but I didn’t much fancy writing about it again. Instead I’ve opted for Eros Pour Femme by Versace, a fragrance inspired by warriors and Gods that is so bland I can’t even remember what it smells like. Versace is a house that could go wonderfully gaudy and brilliantly over the top, yet they don’t and Eros PF is a great example of that. Sure, the bottle is beautiful, but what’s the point when the scent itself is so bland?
So there you have it, the very best and the very worst of perfume in 2015. It’s been an enjoyable ride with ups, downs and some plain dodgy moments, but all-in-all it has been fun and fragrant year. Here’s to more exciting perfume (including fabulous flankers, sour candies and other intriguing things) in 2016!
Join the Discussion!
What are your best and worst fragrances of 2015? Let me know in the comments box below!