Quantity versus quality is an eternal dichotomy. When it came to deciding these top categories for the year I was constantly faced with this dilemma. I ended up choosing two based on the quality of a couple perfumes and two from an impressive body of work. If you look at the runners-up you will see the choices I wrestled with.
Perfume of the Year: Amouage Silver Oud– Prior to this year I was over oud in perfumery. It was too often cloaked in PR nonsense. It was a cynical play to convince consumers there was something worth the price they were paying. Silver Oud from Amouage creative director Renaud Salmon and perfumer Cecile Zarokian deconstructed everything about oud as used in Western perfumery.
They created a fragrance of three accords. One was the typical oud accord present in most commercial perfumes. It contains no oud. Mme Zarokian made a more interesting version of it by using better materials, but it was still not the real thing. The heart is where the real Laotian oud shows up paired with a resinous vanilla from Madagascar. This is what oud can be. This oddly semi-gourmand version is not one of the more common pairings. The final accord is a smoked amber which usually stands alone as a simulacrum of oud. Given the foundation of genuine oud it provided a fascinating resonance that made this amazing. Ever since this arrived, I have enjoyed allowing it to show different shadings of oud to me. This has engaged my nose and my mind more than any other perfume this year.
Perfumer of the Year: Cecile Zarokian– Ever since 2013 this award was an inevitability. When I tried Majda Bekkali Mon Nom est Rouge, Mme Zarokian showed me she was an independent perfumer to keep an eye on. She has confirmed that assessment year after year. I was waiting for that moment when it all came together, 2021 was it.
She made two perfumes for Amouage which are among my Top 2 perfumes of the year. You see that Silver Oud is one of them. The other is Amouage Material. Mme Zarokian has been the most adventurous in expanding what we think of as a gourmand perfume. She has taken every opportunity to create new space within the genre. Material takes the tritest of gourmand ingredients, vanilla and wraps it in a series of complementary notes which illuminate it in a wonderfully different way. She does the same thing for oud in Silver Oud.
I also considered Nathalie Feisthauer who will figure prominently in the Top 25 and Cristiano Canali who made two brilliant perfumes. Mme Zarokian is my choice for Perfumer of the Year because both Material and Silver Oud were genius level examples of perfume construction.
Runners-Up: Francesca Bianchi, Cristiano Canali, Nathalie Feisthauer, David Falsberg, and Anne Flipo.
Creative Director of the Year: Thibaud Crivelli, Maison Crivelli– It would have been easy to keep the Amouage award train running and naming M. Salmon to this honor. Except I have been having a discussion with a perfume friend about the role of creative director. How much do they have to do with the perfume that ends up being released? I am a believer that the best of them is critical to the long-term success. One way I can approach it is by asking this question, is the aesthetic of the brand retained through different perfumers. In other words, if I think a brand is doing great work and the only constant is the creative director that should indicate something.
When Thibaud Crivelli began Maison Crivelli he openly stated he wanted to create a fragrance collection of textures. Over eleven releases he has worked with eight different perfumers to deliver exactly that. 2021 has seen Osmanthe Kodoshan, Lys Solaberg, and Hibiscus Mahajad. Perfumers Stephanie Bakouche, Nathalie Feisthauer, and Quentin Bisch produced gorgeously textural wonders at M. Crivelli’s direction. This is what makes him my Creative Director of the Year for 2021.
Runners-Up: Christian Astuguevieille of Comme des Garcons, Myriam Badault of Diptyque, Alessandro Brun of Masque Milano and Milano Fragranze, Renaud Salmon of Amouage, and Victor Wong of Zoologist.
Brand of the Year: Diptyque– This year was the 60th anniversary of this brand. Creative director Myriam Badault was going to make sure it would not pass with a whimper. Instead, she oversaw a perfume selection beginning with Orpheon paying homage to the founders. Ilio as a reminder of the summery style this brand does so well. She finished the year with Kyoto and Venise which laid down a marker that this 60-year-old still has some innovative life left in it.
Runners-Up: Amouage, Maison Crivelli, Milano Fragranze, Zara, and Zoologist.
Tomorrow I reveal my Top 25 new perfumes of 2021.