Here we are then, at the very end of 2016. It feels, especially after the losses of George Michael, Debbie Reynolds and Carrie Fisher, to name but a few, within the last week, a very bittersweet year. I say bittersweet because it’s not just the loss of the huge number of great talents this year, the likes of Bowie, Prince, Victoria Wood… (the list is endless), but also because the world seems to be a much harsher place than it did one year ago. Whatever your politics, I think we can all agree that 2017 is the year that we all need to work together to make our world a better place.
From a fragrant perspective, 2016 has actually been a pheomenal year. I’d be lying to you if I said that it was easy for me to pick out my very favourite scents of the year because I really did like a lot this year, and it feels like there certainly was a huge amount of good stuff, whether that be unique and interesting new things, or familiar styles that were executed very well. But you will be pleased to know that I was able to narrow down my choices and pick out the winners of The Candies 2016. I do need a stiff drink after all that work though…
If this is your first time attending The Candies, I shall explain how things work. Firstly, you may attend in your pyjamas and you do not need to worry about drinking too much and making a fool of yourself, in fact, such actions are encouraged. We have a number of awards to give out, each of which is split out by Mainstream and Niche, and then by gender. There are also awards for Best Top Down Design and even a Sour Candy Award, which names and shames the worst perfume of the year. This year we also have the addition of the Best Scented Product Award which celebrates the best smelly product for your body or home. It’s a full programme, so let’s get started!
Here we are, in the last few weeks of 2016 – I cannot believe that this year has gone so quickly! This will be my last post before I take my Christmas break (don’t worry, I’ll be back soon enough with The Candies 2016 – my best-of-the-best round-up of the year), during which I will gorge on just about anything edible I can get my hands on. But before the festivities kick off, I wanted to share my final review of 2016 with you and I’ve deliberately left this fragrance to last for the very simple reason that it’s really bloody good, which makes it the perfect perfume to end a year of fragrant discover on. So let’s do exactly that.
Fathom V is the latest scent from Beaufort London, a daring niche brand created by musician and writer Leo Crabtree who offers a collection of fragrances inspired by the sea. I’ve not written about Beaufort London yet because I’ve found their fragrances quite challenging, if I’m being entirely honest. There’s a darkness to this collection, yes, but also an incredibly unique take on familiar themes that really does push the limits as to what is acceptable and palatable in modern perfumery. But when a brand names their first collection of fragrances ‘Come Hell or High Water’ one knows that they mean business and Beaufort London certainly takes the art of perfumery seriously. These scents aren’t easy by any stretch of the imagination, in fact they can be downright difficult, but that’s exactly what makes them thoroughly intriguing sniffs.
This newest addition to Come Hell or High Water is inspired by the imagery of “violent weather, shipwrecks and magical islands” within Shakespeare’s ‘The Tempest’, taking its name from the nautical measure that represents six feet of depth, essentially referring to a body of water that is five fathoms deep. The fragrance is an olfactory clash between the green and the aquatic, creating something that is as contrasting, ever-changing and as powerful as the ocean. Fathom V is not your typical green fragrance nor is it your typical aquatic, in fact there is nothing ‘typical’ about this scent at all – it is wholly and entirely unexpected at every level, depth and fathom.
I think I may have said it before but I’m going through a rose thing at the moment – this moment being the last two years, in fact. I’ve always appreciated rose, but over the last few years I’ve amassed a collection of rose fragrances ranging from the beautiful simplicity of Acqua di Parma’s Rosa Nobile to the gourmand delicacy of Elie Saab’s Essence Nº1, and all that’s in between. So it’s not too difficult to convince me to sample and fall in love with something chock full of rose. Enter Origin by Aqualis.
Origin is one of four fragrances from new niche brand Aquãlis (the others being Coda, Utopia and Freedom). The brand is the brainchild of Steyn Grobler, a South African native who has spent his career working in the luxury realm, with brands such as Boadicea the Victorious to name just one. For his own fragrance brand, Grobler has created the ‘Evolution’ range which, through olfaction, expresses significant moments in his life. Origin, the stand out in the collection, pays homage to his half-Namibian origin and is described as a “galactic explosion of matter”. Sounds intriguing, huh?
If you asked me to sum up my thoughts on the Italian niche brand The Merchant of Venice, I’d say that I think their fragrances are very nicely done and beautifully presented but lack a bit of inspiration. They’re not the type of brand one would go to for something new or innovative, instead they offer up familiar styles of perfumery executed very well. The quality of The Merchant of Venice is apparent in everything they do, from their bottles to the fragrances themselves, so it would be fair to say that what the brand offers is a classical take on perfumery where luxurious materials are central to everything they do right from the compositions to the presentation of the bottles.
The Merchant of Venice have a number of collections, with the newest being the Murano Exclusive Collection. Launching exclusively in Harrods, this collection celebrates the ‘East meets West’ aesthetic of the brand with six oriental fragrances, each of which is housed in a heavy flacon shaded in gold and deep venetian blue. Vinegia, the stand out in the collection, is composed by perfumer Valérie Garnuch-Mentzel and promises to express “the splendour, the opulence, and the fascinating alchemy for which the ancient world of spices is justifiably renowned”. Let’s check it out.
I get bored of new niche brands, I really do. Yes, there are a lot of wonderful new things popping up on a daily basis but my problem is that so many of them are nothing more than familiar fragrances housed within pretty bottles, with some gimmick or other to set them apart from everything else on the shelves. They often try and offer something new, something exciting, but in more cases than not it’s just the emperor’s new clothes – pretty packaging, yes, but what’s within is nothing more than derivative juices, or in some cases, pretty dreadful smells! So yes, I’m a bit cynical of new niche brands, but not all of them are bad – in fact, some of them are bloody brilliant!
Jusbox Perfumes could fall into the trap of being yet another niche brand with a gimmick if it weren’t for two important factors; 1) the scents are incredibly well made, and are not secondary to their packaging; and 2) the attention to detail the brand has factored in to every element of the product is remarkable, not to mention perfectly in keeping with their overarching concept. It’s the little things that matter here – the weight of the vinyl-capped bottle, the fact that each is sold in a 78ml size, the boxes which contain beautiful CD cased-sized cover art for each scent, the individual print designed for each fragrance, and need I mention the fact that the four scents in the collection have been composed by two industry greats – Dominique Ropion and Antoine Lie? I could go on.
The concept behind Jusbox is the link between music and scent. Their four fragrances are inspired by a particular decade of music, as opposed to a specific genre. For the 1960s we have Beat Café (Dominique Ropion), a tobacco, leather and booze fragrance inspired by Bob Dylan, for the 1970s there is 24 Hour Dream (Antoine Lie), a hazy vanilla and patchouli scent that feels like a hippy encounter with a mind-altering substance at Woodstock and for the grungey 1990s we’re treated to Micro Love (Dominique Ropion), an aquatic with the feel of hot circuit boards. You may have noticed that I’ve omitted one fragrance from these descriptions and you would be right and that’s because today’s review focuses on my favourite from the collection: Use Abuse.
Grab yourself a coffee, tea or any appropriately-hot beverage because your Sunday fragrance entertainment is here! Episode Three of Fume Chat, the perfumed podcast hosted by Nick Gilbert and me, is available to download. In this episode, Nick and I discuss the subject of niche perfumery. We try to find out where it started it and how’s it change, in addition to posing the key question: is niche really niche anymore? It’s a fun and insightful conversation that we hope you will enjoy.
Juliette Has a Gun is an excellent example of how a niche brand should operate. The fragrances, for the most part, are interesting and well-composed, not to mention the fact that they are affordable and served with a generous helping of wit! The brand’s Luxury Collection however, is somewhat more serious but what it lacks in humour, it certainly makes up for in quality. The three fragrances in the collection range each present the note of tuberose in an unusual way, ranging from transparent orientalism to ’80s decadence and modern austerity. Click here to head over to Escentual to read my full review of the Luxury Collection.