There are certain ingredients in perfume which have such a multi-faceted character I enjoy smelling the absolute on its own. Beeswax absolute is one of those. Created by extracting hives which have been around for years. Depending on where those hives are from each version has its own scent profile. What is common is a musky honey infused with the pollen harvested from whatever indigenous plant life surrounds the hive. While the absolute is great by itself it is even better when used in a perfume here are five of my favorites.
Chanel Antaeus pour Homme was my first experience with beeswax in perfume although I didn’t know it at the time. It was part of my early expansion of my perfume collection. It provides a bit of animalic muskiness underneath the sage, patchouli, and labdanum spine. I was attracted to it because of that.
I talk about inflection points by perfumers all the time. Ineke Field Notes From Paris was that for independent perfumer Ineke Ruhland. The beeswax brings home a gorientalmand base stitching together tonka bean, vanilla, and amber. Prior to that is the smell of a Paris day.
Rubini Fundamental is one of the most original perfumes of the last few years. The creative team of Andrea Bissoli Rubini,Ermano Picco, and perfumer Cristiano Canali created a perfume capturing Verona in 1937 with the actors, in greasepaint, taking a break underneath the grape arbor. It is beeswax which provides the linchpin to the greasepaint accord mixed with the grapes in the heart of Fundamental. If you’re looking for something completely different this is where you should go.
Maria Candida Gentile released a trio of perfumes in 2014 called “Flight of the Bumblebee”. Within that she used three different sources of beeswax. It was Leuco and its powdery French beeswax which was my favorite. It was the counterweight to a keynote of tuberose. The beeswax provided a muffling effect while also adding a shimmering effect over the top of it all. Leuco is my favorite of al of Sig.ra Gentile’s perfumes.
For a straightforward beeswax experience there is nothing better than Sonoma Scent Studio Bee’s Bliss. Independent perfumer Laurie Erickson created a perfume which captures the entire process of honey. Starting with mimosa as the flower harvested on top of a rich honey accord. The beeswax represents the hive along with vetiver representing the propolis which holds the cells together. It is a gorgeous abstraction of harvesting honey fresh from the hive.
Disclosure: This review is based on bottles I purchased.
Every year I make up this list I surprise myself at how much I have tried over the year and how little it represents of the total new perfumes released. This year I sniffed 686 new releases out of 1676 total. I think I am in a great position to try as much as I do and I still missed trying over half of 2015’s new fragrances. It is always a difficult job to winnow my favorites down to a top 25 because there are usually more than that which I will personally own. Here are the bottles which will eventually be gracing my perfume cabinet.
Top 5 (Perfume of the Year Candidates)
5. Alaia Paris– Almost everything I try comes with a pre-conceived notion of what I think it will smell like. When it came to Alaia I had been told it was supposed to smell like “the smell of hot water falling on cold chalk”. While I still don’t get the chalk the hot and cold contrast is readily apparent to me. Perfumer Marie Salamagne created an olfactory silhouette of steamy ozonic accords which eventually end up on a mixture of precisely balanced white musks to offer the cold as well as the feral. Best designer fragrance of 2015.
4. Memo African Leather– Memo has been one of my favorite brands of the last few years. African Leather is the best of what is becoming a very strong overall collection within Memo, Cuirs Nomades. African Leather is the smell of the savannah, animalic and alive. It is also the culmination of the long partnership between creative director Clara Molloy and perfumer Alienor Massenet. They have evolved into a formidable fragrance team who I only suspect have even better days ahead.
3.Aftelier Bergamoss– Mandy Aftel had a stellar year with two outstanding releases. Vanilla Smoke could easily have slid into this spot except that Bergamoss got here first and it has been an object of fragrant fascination for me over the last half of the year. A solid perfume, Bergamoss carries with it a unique intimacy as applying it in such a tactile way draws you in. What you encounter is as good a modern chypre as I have smelled. The use of flouve absolute provides an ever-shifting frame of reference between the bergamot and the moss. An Eau de Parfum version was released at the end of the year as a limited edition and it is also extremely good but it is the solid version which is the one I adore.
2. Aedes de Venustas Palissandre D’Or– The creative team of Karl Bradl, Robert Gerstner, and Francois Duquesne collaborated with perfumer Alberto Morillas to create a perfume of colored bands. Spices paint a burnt siena, cinnamon and sandalwood provide a lacquered red leading to a base of molten gold as three different cedars come together. It seems obvious that M. Morillas is delighted to be able to use these ingredients when working on a niche release. Palissandre D’Or is a joyous collaboration of passion.
Here are the rest of the Top 25 in Alphabetical Order
Atelier Cologne Figuier Ardente– Atelier Cologne had a fantastic year with Oud Saphir, Jasmine Angelique, and Musc Imperial all among the best of the line. It was Figuier Ardente which has become my favorite of one of my favorite lines. Creative director Sylvie Ganter-Cervasel works with longtime partner in Cologne Absolue, Ralf Schwieger. What they have done is a time-lapse ripening of a fig from green to luscious decadence. Best fig perfume of the last five years.
Bruno Fazzolari Seyrig– Bruno Fazzolari was another perfumer with two outstanding releases. Room 237 is the Blair Witch Project in a bottle. Seyrig was an homage to the days of big aldehydes with lilac added in. Fabulous Retro Nouveau release.
DSH Perfumes The Voices of Trees– Dawn Spencer Hurwitz released an impressive breadth of releases from the abstract to the Retro Nouveau, all of them are noteworthy. The Voices of Trees is the best of them. Following up on last year’s Seve de Pin; The Voices of Trees adds in maple and sycamore to the pinon resin infused pine oil which made Seve de Pin so memorable. The Voices of Trees is better in every way. After much thought I think this is the best perfume Ms. Hurwitz has ever made. It is flawless.
En Voyage Perfumes Frida– Perfumer Shelley Waddington released a strong slate in 2015, too. Frida is my favorite because within the tuberose there is a fierce heartbeat of passion. Ms. Waddington gets this completely right.
Grandiflora Madigascan Jasmine– Perfumer Michel Roudnitska working with creative director Saskia Havekes has created one of the most interesting jasmine soliflores I own. By using specific notes to explore every facet of a beautifully chosen Madigascan Jasmine I come away with a greater love for this floral than ever before.
Hermes Equipage Geranium– This third re-examination of a legacy Hermes perfume by Jean-Claude Ellena is the best. Evolving the tack room of Equipage into the leather chair in the library with Equipage Geranium. He has created a relevant version for the current day.
Hiram Green Voyage– Indie perfumer Hiram Green has made the best perfume of his career. Voyage is an exotic spicy leather which morphs into a vanilla gourmand. One of the most intricately constructed perfumes on this list.
John Varvatos Dark Rebel– The John Varvatos line might be the best mass-market men’s fragrance line out there. One reason for that is perfumer Rodrigo Flores-Roux who has overseen all of them. Dark Rebel’s boozy black leather jacket is the best of them all.
Le Labo The Noir 29– Worried that Estee Lauder was going to screw up Fabrice Penot and Eddie Roschi’s baby? The Noir 29 by perfumer Frank Voelkl feels like the spiritual evolution of 2011’s Santal 33. Except I like it even more.
M. Micallef Akowa– Geoffrey Nejman and Jean-Claude Astier create a perfume which is so overstuffed with ideas it is hard to figure out where to focus first. The most kaleidoscopic perfume of 2015 for its ever shifting nature.
Masque Milano Romanza– Creative Directors Alessandro Brun and Riccardo Tedeschi put their faith in young gun Cristiano Canali. What they received was a lush passionate narcissus perfume which touches my soul every time I wear it.
Miu Miu– Miu Miu led the charge of the mainstream perfumes over the last quarter of 2015. Prior to that it was looking bleak. Perfumer Daniela Andrier made a perfume which seemed classic and contemporary at the same time.
Neela Vermeire Creations Pichola– Neela Vermeire working with perfumer Bertrand Duchaufour has made one of the most breathtakingly beautiful tuberose perfumes I own. Mainly because it is a tightly green tuberose which explodes into full flower with a bang. I described it like a Bollywood dance number breaking out in a garden. I don’t have a better way to explain it now.
Nishane Istanbul Afrika Olifant– Creative directors Mert Guzel and Murat Katran debuted their Nishane Istanbul line this year. Afrika Oliphant is the best of the brand as it combines real animalic raw materials with the synthetic musks meant to replace that material. Perfumer Jorge Lee makes something which feels like a cyborg version of the feral.
Olfactive Studio Panorama– Celine Verleure working with perfumer Clement Gavarry would make a perfume of fierce verdancy. With nothing more eye-catching than the wasabi accord which greets you upon spritzing this on. The most singular artistic statement Olfactive Studio has ever made.
Raymond Matts Pashay– Raymond Matts’ Aura de Parfum was a collection I greatly admired. I was first attracted to Kaiwe but over the year Pashay has become my favorite. Perfumer Christophe Laudamiel creates a magnetic salty skin accord using Kalamata olive as the linchpin. Pashay is a triumph of composition.
Rubini Fundamental– Fundamental was a true team effort of Andrea Rubini, perfumer Cristiano Canali, historian Ermano Picco, and packaging sorceress Francesca Gotti. They have made one of the strongest debut fragrances of the last few years. This is why I love perfume.
Slumberhouse Kiste– Josh Lobb’s most approachable creation. A lazy Savannah summer evening with a pitcher of sweet tea sweating on the table. He captured the decaying fecundity of the thickly growing plants along with a bespoke tobacco accord. I get lost within its lunatic embrace every time.
Stephane Humbert Lucas Mortal Skin– Decay is a theme in this magnificent perfume by Stephane Humbert Lucas. From its inky incense opening to a battle of entropy in the base between an accord of ambergris and labdanum versus civet and musk. It is a battle where the winner changes in a kinetic way over hours. This snake has me in its coils.
Strangelove NYC meltmyheart– The second release from Strangelove NYC. Creative director Helena Christensen worked with perfumer Christophe Laudamiel to make a chocolate, oud and orris perfume with an unusual fragility for something made up of those notes. This has been one of my most worn perfumes of the last few months.
The Final Cuts: The 18 Which Just Missed the Top 25: Amouage Opus IX, Arquiste Nanban, Atelier des Ors Lune Feline, Bvlgari Eau Parfumee au The Bleu, Byredo Rose of No Man’s Land, Cartier Oud Radieux, Chanel Misia, Charenton Macerations Asphalt Rainbow, Jo Malone Mimosa & Cardamom, Jul et Mad Nea, Jul et Mad Garuda, Maria Candida Gentile Elephant and Roses, Olivier Durbano Chrysolithe, Orlov Star of the Season, Pierre Guillaume Mojito Chypre, Roja Parfums A Goodnight Kiss, Unum LAVS, and Vilhelm Black Citrus.
That is it for 2015. I will rest up for a couple days and begin 2016 hoping it is as good as 2015 was.
Every year when I attend Esxence I wait for that moment. It comes when I am introduced to a new brand and it just captivates me from the first moment I smell the strip. This year that moment occurred when I heard the first words out of the young founder’s mouth. When I stepped up to the booth at the beginning of my third day Andrea Bissoli Rubini looked me in the eye and said, “I was born into a family of perfumers.” The earnest passion with which those words were spoken let me know that something special was on the way. The perfume called Rubini Fundamental lived up to every bit of the promise in those words.
Andrea Bissoli Rubini
As I was smelling the strip Sig. Rubini told me his story. How he wanted to assemble a “Made in Italy” team. He asked nose Cristiano Canali to help design the perfume. He asked fellow blogger Ermano Picco to help refine the brief. He asked designer Francesca Gotti to create an unforgettable package to capture the past and the future. Each member of this team executed their task brilliantly.
Sig. Picco imagined Verona in 1937 as the small perfume shop in town serves the ladies in their iris-scented face powder. The actors still wearing their greasepaint. The alluring smells of the denizens of the local house of pleasure. Finally the smell of ripening Soave grapes on the vine ready to be harvested. These are the fundamentals of Fundamental.
Sig. Canali took a mix of great natural materials and combined them with modern synthetics which creates that Retro Nouveau vibe I like so much. Many attempt this but very few pull it off as well as Sig. Canali does in Fundamental.
Side View of the Rubini Fundamental packaging
Sig.ra Gotti has a very unique perspective when it comes to packaging. She took this new material made from recycled Fiberglas, from boats, called Glebanite. Like an olfactory Oreo she sandwiches the bottle between two slabs of Gelbanite. When I saw it, and touched it, it felt like old stone. It wasn’t until I picked it up and saw how feather light it was despite looking so solid that it struck me that again the future was inspired by the past in Sig.ra Gotti’s design.
Above it all Sig. Rubini conducted his team of impassioned Italians to realize his vision.
Fundamental opens on a Hesperidic accord of bergamot, tangerine, orange flower, and a couple of synthetic citrus notes which add nuance and texture. The orange blossom in particular carries the early moments. Then we get the powdery iris as it floats above the top notes. The Soave grape accord also comes in with the powder. Sig. Canali finds the balance between crisp fruit and slightly alcoholic. It is as light as the iris making it the right partner for the heart of Fundamental. The thicker unctuous smell of the greasepaint also comes to provide the contrast to the pretty notes with a bit of bohemian insouciance. This is made up of vetiver and another set of synthetics which adds an olfactory thickness to Fundamental. We head further into the base with sandalwood and leather providing a carnal promise if you are just willing to take a step towards it.
Fundamental has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.
Everything about Fundamental makes me elated, and renews my faith, at the state of independent perfumery. Sig. Rubini assembled a group of like-minded visionaries. Together they carried themselves to the heights of creativity. I could wish that this was fundamental thinking for everyone making perfume. As long as Sig. Rubini can keep using his heritage to fuel his future I am sure that Fundamental is only the beginning of something quite marvelous.
Disclosure: this review was based on a sample I received at Esxence 2015.
This year’s Esxence was bigger than ever with 150 brands displaying their perfumes. That made it even more challenging to cover everything that was there. Honestly even with three days I am sure there is a new brand or new release I missed. I was able to try 76 new perfumes over my time in Milan. The following are the ten I am having the hardest time forgetting after returning home, in alphabetical order.
Aedes de Venustas Palissandre D’Or by Alberto Morillas- The Aedes de Venustas line of perfumes, creatively overseen by Robert Gerstner and Karl Bradl, has been on a winning streak since their debut three years ago. With this fifth entry M. Morillas turns in, perhaps, the most translucent of the collection. It is a fascinating study of woods that never get heavy. Once you get past the floral top it is a dance of three kinds of cedar and Sri Lankan sandalwood which lingers in my memory.
Jardins D’Ecrivains Marlowe by Anais Biguine– Mme Biguine has returned to the classics after last year’s modern Junky. Inspired by Shakespeare contemporary Christopher Marlowe, Mme Biguine turns in a floral soliloquy around tuberose and osmanthus.
Jul et Mad Garuda by Luca Maffei– Creative Directors Julien Blanchard and Madalina Stoica tapped Sig. Maffei to do two of the three new releases in the Les White collection, Nea is the other. Garuda was meant to exude the warmth of burnished gold in the sunlight. Cambodian oud along with saffron and rum provide the warm glow desired. I just closed my eyes and let it envelop me.
Le Galion Aesthete by Vanina Murraciole– Nicolas Chabot has finished re-inventing the past with Le Galion and now he sets sail for the future with new releases. One of those new releases by Mme Murraciole feels like it belongs to a previous era. Aesthete is the scent of animalic leather and oud combined. It imparts a give and take between these two powerful notes and this tug-of-war is what makes Aesthete so much fun to wear.
Neela Vermeire Creations Pichola by Bertrand Duchaufour– This team of Neela Vermeire and M. Duchaufour have been exploring the deeper waters of perfumery. As one who loves the exuberance of Bombay Bling I was pleased to see that sense of playfulness return in Pichola. Don’t be fooled by the opening because two-fisted handfuls of flowers burst through the tight green start and break into a Bollywood dance number.
Olfactive Studio Panorama by Clement Gavarry– When creative director Celine Verleure told me a few months ago that Panorama featured a wasabi accord I can’t say I was overly excited. As I approached the stand to try it I was still a bit apprehensive. Once I smelled it all of that concern evaporated. M. Gavarry balances the unusual wasabi inside a veritable green brigade of fig leaf, violet leaf, and galbanum. It adds modernity and creates something beautifully unique.
Orlov Paris Star of the Season by Dominique Ropion– All five of the perfumes from this new line are based on famous diamonds. M. Ropion is really stretching across the entire line but in Star of the Season he takes the duet of rose and iris and places them on a vanilla tinted bed of sandalwood. This is perfumery as classic as the diamond it is named after.
Rubini Fundamental by Cristiano Canali– My favorite new discovery of the entire fair. Founder and creative director Andrea Rubini along with his team of Sig. Canali, Ermano Picco and Francesca Gotti delivered a real team effort. From the ultra-sleek look of the recycled Fiberglas packaging to the mix of new aromachemicals with classic ingredients this is the complete package.
Stephane Humbert Lucas Mortal Skin by Stephane Humbert Lucas– M. Lucas said Mortal Skin was meant to be a brightly colored snake with incandescent eyes drawing me in. Most often that kind of rhetoric falls flat. In Mortal Skin it rings true with beauty and decay featuring in equal measure. I think I will be spending a lot of time with this one trying to tease out its secrets.
X-Ray Profumo Amnesia by Ralf Schwieger– As I was flying to Esxence I posted about my favorite new aquatics. Once I met creative director Ray Burns and he showed me Amnesia, named after an Ibiza nightclub, I now have another new aquatic to wear. Hr. Schwieger uses a seaweed and sea salt accord as the nucleus of a night of beachside abandon come to life. Around that very pungent accord floats waterlily, fruit, and cloves. The night is slowly giving way to the dawn but the party never ends.
That’s the end of my Esxence reports for 2015. My very grateful thanks to Silvio Levi and Caterina Gianoli for having me back. See you all next year.
Every Esxence there seems to be one brand which starts to gain a groundswell of buzz. This year’s winner of that honor is Rubini. Founder Andrea Rubini gathered a team of creatives to help him realize his vision. A perfumer who prefers to be unnamed, package designer Francesca Gotti, and Ermano Picco. All four of these helped create one of the singular buzzworthy brands of the show. The packaging of Sig.ra Gotti is from recycled fiberglass from old boats. Don’t ask me what a boat recycling bin looks like. It looks like stone but is light as a feather. It is an apt metaphor for the fragrance called Fundamental. The scent itself is also something which also conveys lightness with surprising weight. Rubini Fundamental was one of the most unique perfumes in the entire exhibition.
Next was time to meet Stephane Humbert Lucas for him to premiere his new release Mortal Skin for his Stephane Humbert Lucas 777 brand. Mortal Skin is a brilliant realization of M. Humbert Lucas’ vision of a snake swaying and hypnotizing the wearer into a trance. It drew me in and never wanted to let me go. Before I left M. Humbert Lucas also showed me the limited edition for Harrod’s he is doing. He jokingly names it Mike Tyson because it opens with a fierce uppercut of intense notes. If you survive the first punch what remains reveals a sublime beauty.
For the next hour I was treated to a tour of the ocean courtesy of Pierre Guillaume and his Collection Croisiere. The first four releases of an eventual eight were a tour de force in how to make interesting aquatics without resorting to Calone. Entre Ciel et Mer is like riding a surfboard under the curl as the spray covers your face before you emerge from the pipe. It is refreshingly icy for an aquatic. Paris Seychelles is for laying in the sun on the beach as you carry the warmth of the sun. The other side of the coin to Entre Ciel et Mer. If you’ve ever been in a tropical rainforest after a rainstorm has washed the air clean you will recognize the smell of Jangala. A really intelligent use of eucalyptus imparts a lung filling purity like when the world has been scrubbed clean. Finally if you’re on a cruise you need some suntan lotion and M. Guillaume’s Long Courrier suntan lotion accord is made of salty vanilla and sea spray.
After returning from my cruise I headed to Elizabethan England so perfumer Anais Biguine could introduce me to her new Jardins D’Ecrivains Marlowe. The follow-up to last year’s ultra-modern Junky, Marlowe strikes a more classical pose. It has a heady spirit exemplified by green tuberose. It exudes exuberance as well as grace. Mme Biguine has added another writer to her jardin.
This was my last day at Esxence 2015 as I will be on a plane as you read this. As always I want to thank the entire Esxence team for the invitation to attend and to be the face of this year’s Esxence TV. I am already looking forward to next year. Until then, Arrivaderci Perfumistas & Colognoisseurs.