One of the things I enjoy about writing on fragrance is how one perfume makes me view previous releases differently. One of the more recent examples was Cadavre Exquis by Bruno Fazzolari and Antonio Gardoni. The keynote was the use of camphor which opened my eyes to its versatility. Which then sent me back to try some of the fragrances on my shelf which contain it. I’d have Cadavre Exquis on the list, but it is a sold-out limited edition. Instead here are five of my other favorites which feature camphor.
Perfumer James Heeley wanted to turn the liniment Tiger Balm into a perfume which he does in Heeley Esprit du Tigre. The camphor is amplified by mint and wintergreen before clove and vetiver close the loop on the desired accord. It is medicinal, but it is also refreshing in an odd way especially on a hot day.
Camphor doesn’t have to dominate the opening which Diptyque Oud Palao shows. Perfumer Fabrice Pellegrin constructs an oud accord which he doses a bit of camphor in to mimic that quality in some of the younger natural ouds. This is an example of what camphor can do to complete an accord.
It can also be used to tease out a facet within an overdosed ingredient as it does in Editions de Parfums Frederic Malle Carnal Flower. Perfumer Dominique Ropion uses the camphor to draw attention to the underlying green vein within tuberose. Without its presence the tuberose would have lost much of its carnality.
It also amplifies that kind of mentholated quality, if it is present, as it does in Comme des Garcons x Monocle Scent One: Hinoki. That titular note is given the sheen of fresh-cut cedar when perfumer Antoine Maisondieu uses it in the top accord leading to the eventual presence of the wood itself.
Just as with Carnal Flower, Serge Lutens Tubereuse Criminelle serves up camphor and tuberose. Except this time more of the former and a bit less of the latter. Perfumer Christopher Sheldrake turns the sultry white flower into something with a bit more malice courtesy of the camphor.
If you need a little something bracing from your perfume give these five camphor perfumes a try.
Disclosure: This review is based on bottles I purchased.
This year I tried 680 new perfumes which wasn’t even half of all the new perfume that was released. The Top 25 below represent the top 3.7% of all that I tried.
Alessandro Brun, Me, and Riccardo Tedeschi (l. to r.) of Masque Milano
The Top 5 (Perfume of the Year Candidates)
5. Thierry Mugler Angel Muse– Two of the most iconic landmark fragrances ever took it upon themselves to re-invent themselves for a new generation. Perfumer Quentin Bisch didn’t just change the gourmand template begun with 1992’s Angel he sent it off in an entirely new direction with Angel Muse. It is easy to see Angel Muse as a softer unplugged version of Angel with its vetiver and hazelnut cream core. If you look at it that way you miss the complete transformation of the pyramid without ever being anything less than a relative of the original.
4. Faths Essentials Green Water– I love the original Jacques Fath Green Water it is one of my favorite perfumes no matter what year. I worked hard to find as pristine a vintage bottle as I could. Which was why when I sat down to try the Cecile Zarokian supervised re-formulation I expected a watered-down shadow. Instead I found probably the best re-formulation of a classic vintage perfume I can recall. It started with the simplest of choices not skimping on the concentration of neroli oil; matching the percentage in the original. This was not economical but Mme Zarokian convinced creative director Raina Naim it was necessary. In many ways, the fresh snappy quality of the 2016 version is more appealing than the well-aged and macerated vintage versions. There is a time and place for both but there is no embarrassment having them side-by-side on my shelf.
3. The Different Company Adjatay– Simple was the by-word with the 2016 release from The Different Company. Creative Director Luc Gabriel had gone on a trip and left some actual tuberose in his well-worn leather traveling case. When he took it out again he realized that smell he encountered needed to become a perfume. He asked Alexandra Monet to find the balance between tuberose and leather he had experienced. It is an ever-evolving battle through the early going with tuberose on top at first before the leather gains the upper hand finally achieving a balance between the two. If it wasn’t for Adjatay my luggage would all have tuberose inside.
2. Zoologist Perfumes Bat– Almost literally the first new perfume I tried in 2016. From that point every one of the successive perfumes I tried had a very difficult bar to hurdle. Owner/creative director Victor Wong continuing his efforts of working with the best artisanal perfumers collaborated with Ellen Covey of Olympic Orchids. Dr. Covey had done some field studies of bats in the wild and had a good idea what should be in Bat. Mr. Wong creditably allowed Bat to evolve into a perfume which was true to both of their visions. I have had the most fun handing Bat to people throughout the year. Most gravitate to it immediately; but it is the ones who at first are unsure and over time keep returning to the strip before finally picking up the sample and spraying it on that make me smile widest. Bat is everything Independent Niche Perfumery should be about.
Here are the rest of the Top 25 in Alphabetical Order
Aeon 001– Another early year release all about a unique take on smoky vetiver. The name of the perfumer was held back until it sold out. When it turned out to be Bogue Profumo’s Antonio Gardoni it wasn’t a giant surprise.
Amouage Lilac Love– I have lauded creative director Christopher Chong for defining the boundaries of perfumery. Working with perfumers Nathalie Lorson and Elise Benat he turned Lilac Love into a gentle lilac tinted nudge towards the greater Amouage collection while maintaining that DNA.
Arquiste El & Ella– My only cheat this year but I couldn’t separate the two new releases from Arquiste. Creative director Carlos Huber and perfumer Rodrigo Flores-Roux take us back to 1970’s Jet Set Acapulco for a hot night contrasting chypre, Ella, and fougere El, all reflected through a mirror ball of cardamom and honey.
Atelier Cologne Citron D’Erable– Jerome Epinette’s twenty-third perfume for Atelier Cologne finds creative directors Sylvie Ganter-Cervasel and Christophe Cervasel saluting Canada with a mixture of maple syrup and citrus. It makes Citron D’Erable a citrus cologne for cold weather.
Atelier des Ors Iris Fauve– This probably should have been number 5A on this list; that’s how close it was to being in the Top 5. Creative director Jean-Philippe Clermont continues his collaboration with perfumer Marie Salamagne to create the best of this very good brand, to date, with this musky iris that warms the soul.
Byredo La Botte– The Night Veils Collection within Byredo was begun late in 2015. This year the three releases explored the different versions of leather. Creative director Ben Gorham and perfumer Jerome Epinette turned the one celebrating the leather boot into a real kick.
Cadavre Exquis– There were many interesting collaborations in the indie artisanal world this year. Antonio Gardoni and Bruno Fazzolari did a trans-Atlantic examination of the gourmand. It provocatively reminds you that camphor is a gourmand note. Everything I love about the artisanal mindset is on display here.
Chanel No. 5 L’Eau– Scariest press release line of the year “Chanel No. 5 re-interpreted for a younger generation”. Olivier Polge showed me my fear was misplaced with a fresh take on the grand parfum that lost nothing and maybe gained a generation of new admirers of the brand.
Dasein Winter Nights– Another artisanal collaboration between Josh Meyer of Imaginary Authors and Sam Rader of Dasein. Making an evolution of Ms. Rader’s first release Winter in to a Holiday bonfire at Big Sur was a triumph.
Diptyque Kimonanthe– 2016 was deep in great osmanthus perfumes. Perfumer Fabrice Pellegrin took an opulent osmanthus and dusted it with the Japanese powdered incense, zukoh. Kimonanthe was the best osmanthus perfume of 2016.
DS & Durga Radio Bombay– Perfumer David Seth Moltz deconstructs sandalwood in a compelling way. As the entropy takes place on my skin I kept trying to tune the signal back in which is why this was one of my favorites.
DSH Perfumes La Belle Saison– Dawn Spencer Hurwitz’s work with the Denver Art Museum on their Monet installation last year led to this. La Belle Saison is Ms. Hurwitz’s version of an impressionistic lilac perfume.
Eris Parfums Night Flower– Barbara Herman is another who has successfully made the leap from enthusiast to creative director. All three of her debut Eris Parfums with perfumer Antoine Lie were excellent but it was Night Flower which really reminded me of how they used to make ‘em.
Galop D’Hermes– Even though it was the second perfume Christine Nagel released in her new post as in-house perfumer at Hermes Galop D’Hermes was where she planted her flag in the ground. By retaining the lighter tone the brand has been known for while changing it to her style made Galop the place where generations changed at Hermes.
Hiram Green Arbole Arbole– One of the best all-natural perfumes I’ve encountered in a long time by one of the most talented young independent perfumers, Hiram Green. The smell of being high in an olive tree next to a fresh-faced girl wearing powder. I have spent hours enjoying the places in between in this perfume.
House of Matriarch Kazimi– Christi Meshell has made the courageous move with her independent brand House of Matriarch bringing it to Nordstrom’s all over the US. With Kazimi she is leading with some of her best work ever. Fingers crossed some of the mall shoppers agree with me.
Jul et Mad Secrets du Paradis Rouge– The continuing story of Jul et Mad co-founders Julien Blanchard and Madalina Stoica-Blanchard continues into their honeymoon with this perfume of travel and love composed by Luca Maffei.
Laboratorio Olfattivo MyLO– Creative director Roberto Drago working with perfumer Luca Maffei creates a carnal lily more in keeping with O’Keeffe than the funeral home.
Olfactive Studio Close-Up– I have long worn this brand’s Lumiere Blanche as my favorite. Close-Up has replaced it as creative director Celine Verleure and perfumer Annick Menardo combine cherry, tobacco, coffee, and patchouli into something I want to keep close-up all the time.
Puredistance Sheiduna– I appreciate brands which are willing to change a well-known architecture. Creative director Jan Ewoud Vos and perfumer Cecile Zarokian take the traditional Oriental and dry it out with abandon. Never has the Orient seemed so modern.
The Final Cuts (The 20 perfumes which just missed the Top 25)
Over the past two years or so there have been a number of collaborations within the independent perfume community. I have likened it to when two musicians meet at a festival and start jamming together backstage to find there is some artistic commonality to work from. Perfume is not quite as easy as that but when a couple of perfumers get together and start discussing collaboration it is always exciting to see it actually happen. Such is the case with perfumer Bruno Fazzolari and Antonio Gardoni of Bogue Profumo.
Mr. Fazzolari has been one of the most interesting independent perfume stories. I only really had the pleasure of trying his entire collection in the last year. He has that outsider mindset which most often goes wrong. For him it allows for a way of thinking about perfume by melding it with his color sense as a painter that has resulted in one of the great indie collections.
Sig. Gardoni came at his independent perfume career from a different place; a more classical one. He acquired a perfumer’s laboratory from the 1940’s. After spending time with each of the materials he had, he began to compose starting with a recipe that came with the bottles. His brand has evolved since then and he has made some of the best retro nouveau perfumes of the last two years.
"Cadavre Exquis" (1927) by Man Ray, Joan Miro, Yves Tanguy, and Max Morise
When the two met they decided on a very unique version of a perfume collaboration. They wanted to do a fragrant version of the 1920’s artists parlor game cadavre exquis. The way that game went was a group of artists, four usually, would collaborate by each drawing on a page and after finishing cover up their contribution. The next artist would then add to the drawing and cover up their contribution and so on until all four had gone. There are examples of the work in museums all over the world. The example above hangs in MoMA in NYC and was done in 1927 by artists Man Ray, Yves Tanguy, Joan Miro, and Max Morise. It is sort of an artistic Frankenstein which manages to lurch into life. Mr. Fazzolari and Sig. Gardoni wanted to do the same and they gave their perfume the same name, Cadavre Exquis.
They further decided that the genre they wanted to work in was the gourmand. The way they played the game was starting with Sig. Gardoni they sent vials back and forth as each added something to it. Not quite as blind as the artist’s game but still each new addition was going to inspire the next. The resulting perfume is as completely original as you might expect.
Right from the beginning of Cadavre Exquis you can see the idea of experimentation. In the booklet which comes with the perfume one of the perfumers mentions his take on how he sees this gourmand. “Think about a potion from 100 years ago….sold by a magician, a “doctor”….a power-food, a love elixir with an almost disturbing smell….think…CAMPHOR!” It is this which greets you upon spraying on Cadavre Exquis it is contrasted with the more usual citrus notes of bergamot and blood orange. I love this opening the camphor immediately lets you know this is an experiment. The heart is dominated by a rich cacao absolute which wraps up the camphor in an embrace and doesn’t let go. This camphoraceous chocolate accord is the beating heart of Cadavre Exquis. Over the next few hours the sense of cadavre exquis the game is most apparent as different floral and herbal notes are used to change this outré gourmand accord. The unctuous nature of ylang ylang oozes across it. The acerbic nature of tagetes pierces it. Star anise amplifies it. Finally, stewed fruit adds an alternative sweetness; a kind of decaying almost rotted version. That degree of decay is what leads in to the base accord centered around the animalic ingredients of civet and castoreum. They add the entropy to the cleaner sweet woodiness of cypress, benzoin, and vanilla.
Cadavre Exquis has 12-14 hour longevity and moderate sillage.
Cadavre Exquis the perfume is a much more complete artistic vision than the visual pieces from the 1920’s. That is not surprising because the perfumers didn’t work as completely uninformed. Even so the melding of the classic and the synesthetic works in a much more satisfying way that I could have imagined. Cadavre Exquis is a Franken-gourmand which is delightfully alive.
Disclosure: This review was based on a sample provided by the perfumers.