There is much more to the world of fragrance than just new launches, as interest in perfume continues to be shared on social networks, cultural trends shift, and perfumery is on its way to being respected as an art form more than any time in recent history. In the first installment of my 2012 roundup, I talked about the perfumes that captured my attention; here are some other highlights of the year, an admittedly incomplete list, but touching on some of the major players and events.
Best (and busiest!) perfumer, mainstream or luxury: Bertrand Duchaufour, whose stellar work for L’Artisan with the superb orange blossom-based Seville a l’ Aube was eclipsed only by his highly praised Chypre Palatin for Parfums MDCI and his trio of compositions for both the well-regarded new Ann Gerard brand and the new Neela Vermeire Creations niche line; his deliriously good Bombay Bling! might very well be my favorite launch of the year in any category. (Technically, the Neela Vermeire line was launched at the end of 2011, but it did not appear in the USA until January 2012.)
Best independent/niche perfumer: The many talents of Dawn Spencer Hurwitz of DSH Perfumes continue to amaze me and she gets my nod in this category for the second consecutive year. Not only did she launch the fantastic Yves St. Laurent Retrospective set (see best perfume-related cultural event, below) but she also introduced several other outstanding fragrances in 2012, including the luscious Guimauve de Soie, the spicy Oriental Indus, the tender Pretty & Pink and the cozy Sweet Dreams; to top it all off, the DSH Perfumes Holiday 2012 fragrance, Cordial, is an incredibly delicious gourmand scent that’s not overly sweet and has a definite “vintage” feel.
Biggest surprise: Houbigant’s launch of Orangers en Fleurs, a gorgeous perfume from a once-great brand that has not produced a top quality fragrance for many years, except for the relaunch of their iconic 1882 masterpiece Fougère Royale in 2010. Let’s hope they are back in the quality fragrance business for good, and that they will continue to relaunch some of their classics, not to mention new ones as good as Orangers en Fleurs.
Best front woman: Monica Miller, proprietor of Skye Botanicals and the Perfume Pharmer blog. She makes her own high quality natural skin care and fragrance products and still manages to find time to host and promote collaborative events like the huge Primordial Scents Project and the daring Devilscent Project inspired by Sheila Eggenberger’s intriguing e-novel Quantum Demonology. I participated in both of these events as a tester and writer, and her creative ideas, high energy and enthusiasm are contagious. The world of natural perfumery could not ask for a more charismatic ambassador than Ms. Miller.
Best front man: Kilian Hennessy, master of the charm offensive as the face of his By Kilian luxury brand. His accessibility to his many fans through his numerous store and special event appearances has created a lot of good publicity for the line, and his marketing strategy of sending samples of every new release to his Facebook “fan club” is pure genius. To top it all off, the fragrances really are very good, if aspirationally priced.
Best unintentionally funny ad campaign: the misguided Chanel No. 5 television spots featuring a straggly-bearded and unkempt Brad Pitt. Seriously, dude – would it be that difficult to shave and put on a suit considering all the money they paid you? Saturday Night Live, Conan and others had a field day with satirizing his enigmatic, deadpan delivery – check out their series of fake “Chanel” commercials on YouTube.
Best perfume-related cultural event: The nearly simultaneous opening of two new perfume exhibits – one in New York City, curated by noted fragrance writer Chandler Burr, and a permanent museum in Boulder, Colorado created by artist and perfumer Dawn Spencer Hurwitz, well known for her original fragrance creations to accompany major exhibits at the Denver Art Museum.
Best artistic collaboration: Perfumer Andy Tauer and filmmaker Brian Pera teamed up to celebrate the Woman’s Picture trilogy from Pera’s Evelyn Avenue production company with perfumes named after the main female characters, and made to reflect the personalities of the women. The first two entries in the Tableau de Parfums series, Miriam and Loretta, are both excellent and distinctive, and the third fragrance, Ingrid, will arrive in the fall of 2013 along with the final film. I for one can’t wait to smell it.
Best trend: American men “coming out” as serious fragrance lovers and buyers. Kudos to them for letting the world know that not all guys want to wear Axe! Now it’s safe for gentlemen everywhere to leave the dreadful, faceless fill-in-the blanks brand Ultra Blue Aqua Extreme Special Edition Sport stuff on the shelves and buy decent fragrances, thanks to men like The Goodsmellas.
Best crossover: Natural perfumer and fragrance educator Mandy Aftel of Aftelier Perfumes has developed a line of Chef’s Essences® that has really taken off this year, with expansion into Williams-Sonoma stores and the launch of the new spray versions. These concentrated flavors are “perfume for your palate” that can transform foods and beverages like magic. They are available in an astonishing array of flavors; I can recommend the Sweet Basil, Black Pepper and Fresh Ginger very highly and I am planning to get more of them.
Best book about perfume: ComingTo My Senses: A Story of Perfume, Pleasure and an Unlikely Bride by blogger Alyssa Harad. Her intimate look at her fall down the magical rabbit hole into the world of perfume appreciation and how it affected other aspects of her life is a must-read, even if you are not a serious perfumista; her luminous and heartfelt writing will keep your eyes and nose glued to this book.
Best national perfume store: MiN New York, a shop whose customer service has become legendary, and whose welcoming of fragrance fan gatherings, independent niche lines and in-store perfumer visits has made them the nexus of the NYC perfume scene. This is the place to go to find your favorite new perfume, meet your friends for a sniffing marathon, or meet and greet your favorite fragrance celebrity. Fortunately for the rest of us, everything they sell is also available by mail order – or pick up the phone for a personal consultation.
Best local perfume store: Not new in 2012 but new to me were Flutter and its sister store Eden, bringing previously elusive indie lines like Tokyo Milk, West Third and Aroma M to Portland. The best part is that both of them are so much more than just perfume boutiques, and you can easily get lost in all their books, antiques and vintage clothing. These are both perfect destinations for a rainy day.