Colognoisseur Best of 2021 Part 2: Perfume, Perfumer, Creative Director, and Brand of the Year

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.

Cecile Zarokian

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.

Thibaud Crivelli

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.

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Maison Crivelli Hibiscus Mahajad- Gemstone Floral

As I watch new brands begin to define their aesthetic some common themes come up. Most often a creative director will choose to work with a small set of perfumers, one to three to help in the early days. I am a proponent of this especially for new brands. Defined working relationships can lead to consistent results. What is surprising are the outliers. Creative directors with such clarity of vision they can work with any perfumer. The ability to coax exactly what you want from a perfumer is the essence of the best creative directors. In just a couple of years Thibaud Crivelli has shown he is one of these. Maison Crivelli Hibiscus Mahajad shows another side of his vision.

Thibaud Crivelli

M. Crivelli from the beginning laid out his desire to have textural perfumes. Before I ever tried one, I was skeptical he could do it. Fromm the first set of five through to this, his eleventh he has achieved it. He has done it working with a variety of perfumers. Quentin Bisch who he collaborates with here is the eighth different nose in eleven releases. The other change is to create a fragrance at extrait strength. Working at new concentration and with a new perfumer should be difficult. The result makes it look easy.

Quentin Bisch

Hibiscus Mahajad is inspired by “hibiscus tea in a gemstone market”. That description describes the idea trying to be realized. A floral steamy accord over harder glossier ingredients. It is achieved through two separate accords.

The choice to use a hibiscus accord is an interesting way to allow for the texture to be engineered through balancing the pieces. In this case three interesting ingredients comprise the accord. First is Ebelia which carries a dewy cassis-like scent profile. Also present is the lily surrogate Nympheal which also has a dewy floral quality more green than typical lily. The third piece is Rose NeoAbsolute this is a recent addition to the perfumer’s palette. It is achieved by taking the rose petals which have been distilled once for their essential oil and doing it a second time. It forms a fascinating rose with deeper facets. Together these are what forms the hibiscus accord. The dewiness is what will add the steam to form the hibiscus tea.

It is this accord where the perfume opens. Added to it is a sprig of herbal spearmint and a stick of cinnamon. These coax out some of the greener and spicy subtleties lurking in the hibiscus accord. Which allows for the second half of this to come together.

Vanilla leads the way adding just the right amount of sweet counterbalance to the top accord. Ambrette forms a bridge to the leather accord waiting. A warm amber comes along with the leather to create that glossy surface. Prodded by the description I was thinking about topaz as I wore this. A deeper colored gemstone to complete the initial vision.

Hibiscus Mahajad has 10-12 hour longevity and moderate sillage.

Having this at extrait concentration is an added benefit. All of what I described isn’t propelled off your skin. It rises in undulating waves like swirls of steam off the cup of tea as you look at a topaz through a loupe. Because it is concentrated it is going to be a great floral choice for the upcoming colder months. It will be enough to tide me over until M. Crivelli is ready to give me something new.

Disclosure: This review is based on a sample I purchased.

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Maison Crivelli Lys Solaberg- Late Night Lily in the Arctic

Good creative directors are rare. Great creative directors are even more precious. I think they are a critical piece of perfume making. Which is why I tend to get excited when I see a new great one emerging. Thibaud Crivelli is one I am beginning to believe in. His latest, Maison Crivelli Lys Solaberg brings things full circle for me.

Thibaud Crivelli

I tried the brand for the first time in 2019 but it had been around for a year before it got to me. When I was waiting for the sample set to arrive, I read about M. Crivelli’s desire to create texture and keynote. Almost every time this is a lot of PR double speak. Doesn’t mean the perfume will not be good but textural aesthetics are not easy. Coming from someone who was a neophyte at this I was not ready for what I would experience. The first five perfumes I received were exactly what he claimed them to be. My favorite was Absinthe Boreale for its absinthe on crystalline snow under the Aurora Borealis. The perfumer on that was Nathalie Feisthauer. Lys Solaberg takes the brand, and Mme Feisthauer back to the Arctic but this time in the summer. In the days of 20-hour sunlight nature runs riot over this time. For this perfume, a lily grows in the Arctic.

Nathalie Feisthauer

It begins with the crisp fruitiness of quince. This is a multi-faceted note which seemingly transforms minute-to-minute. From citrusy, to like a pear, to a crisp apple; back and forth. To try and fix it in place Mme Feisthauer drops it in a cognac accord. As the sharp boozy quality interacts it kind of holds the quince in place somewhere between apple and pear. It is as if the minute hand is held in place while the hour hand continues to move.

The lily appears next. It arrives as a flower found in a wetland. Calamus provides that sense of wet earth underneath the freshness of the lily. This is like squelching through the damp ground in a field of them. To continue the theme a carroty orris adds a bit of vegetal sweetness while the rhizome adds even more earth to it.

The smell of woodsmoke on the air swirls across the flower. The smoke comes from charred oak shaving absolute, mate, and tobacco. This is that textural piece M. Crivelli has become so adept at realizing. This acts as tendrils of smoke swirling in and around the lily. It adds a Great White North ruggedness to the usually polite floral. A bit of velvety oakmoss softens it just a bit. This all ends on an Ambroxan base accord. Mme Feisthauer keeps it from going monolithic while allowing the dry woodiness a place in the composition.

Lys Solaberg has 12-14 hour longevity and average sillage.

My first experience with M. Crivelli’s vision was an Arctic nighttime. Lys Solaberg flips that. It is no less compelling to be spending summer among the lilies in the Arctic.

Disclosure: This review is based on a sample I purchased.

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Maison Crivelli Osmanthe Kodoshan- Against the Grain Osmanthus

There is nothing which makes me more pleased than to watch a perfume brand begin to hit their stride. I call this the inflection point. What it signifies is a brand has developed their core principles and aesthetics. Then they produce a perfume which shows the development phase is over as all these ingredients take it to a new place of creativity. Maison Crivelli Osmanthe Kodoshan represents that kind of transition.

Thibaud Crivelli

Creative director-founder Thibaud Crivelli began Maison Crivelli in 2018. What made me interested in them from their beginning was M. Crivelli’s belief in creating perfume which had texture from a specific keynote. That is a difficult aesthetic to achieve. I’ve read that statement numerous times. It has been a mark of failed aspirations almost all of the time. M. Crivelli has lived up to his artistic vision admirably.

Stephanie Bakouche

There has been a steady improvement in each succeeding release. Over the last year it really seemed to coalesce. With Citrus BatiKanga and Iris Malikhan it was right on the verge of something special. Osmanthe Kodoshan is that perfume.

Another thing to be admired about M. Crivelli is he has imparted his vision of texture and keynote to different perfumers. I would’ve thought this was a concept which would have flourished better under a single partnership of creative direction and perfumer. That doesn’t seem to be the case. Perfumer Stephanie Bakouche returns for her second collaboration with M. Crivelli.

I’ve written hundreds of words about my affection for osmanthus. It is another of those two-faced ingredients which I think is what speaks to me. it also means it is an ideal choice for the focal point of a textural type of fragrance. It brings its own with it. Here they delve into the darker parts of it finding the shadowy pockets within.

One thing which is becoming a consistent piece of a Maison Crivelli perfume is an opening accord which sets the textural table without employing the keynote. It is at its zenith in the combination of star anise and Szechuan pepper used to begin Osmanthe Kodoshan. The black licorice whip intensity of star anise lays down lashes across the fruity spiciness of the pepper. There is a graininess to this which is so appealing. The first time I tried this I wished there were a pause button on my nose so I could hold this for a few seconds longer. What was to come was even better.

The osmanthus leads the way. This is appealing to me because of the natural apricot and leather scent profile it carries. Both pieces can be turned in a direction using the supporting ingredients. Here the concept is to take it in a deeper darker direction. A back alley osmanthus. This is done with a slightly smoky black tea taking the apricot in a dried fruit direction. This concentrates the fruitiness. It is helped by the remnants of the anise and pepper top accord. An insistent swirl of frankincense brings attention to the leathery side of things. It is anchored there through a rich narcotic tobacco, earthy patchouli, and a velvet oakmoss. These recapitulate the graininess of the opening accord as you slide your fingers across a grained leather swatch. Taken together it is mesmerizing

Osmanthe Kodoshan has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.

This is the best perfume Maison Crivelli has made to date. It achieves higher levels of everything the brand says it desires to. If you haven’t discovered them yet, you should before they really take off. Everything I could want from an osmanthus perfume with texture is found in Osmanthe Kodoshan.

Disclosure: This review is based on a sample I purchased.

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Maison Crivelli Iris Malikhan- Textural Iris


I tend to have reservations with fragrances which state they aspire to be textural. The way that translates is abrupt shifts in tone in the ones I think fail. Texture as it is applied to perfume is a more subtle effect in my experience. The perfumes I would describe as doing this well create the olfactory experience of a tactile effect. There is a new perfume brand which has stated this as their desired aesthetic of which Maison Crivelli Iris Malikhan is the latest evidence.

Thibaud Crivelli

Creative director Thibaud Crivelli stated in 2018 that he wanted the Maison Crivelli collection to be a collection of textural accords. I have found that they have hit the mark admirably through their initial releases. For Iris Malikhan perfumer Marc Zini begins with a keynote which already carries its own bifurcated texture of powder and root. What I found interesting in the way M. Zini approached this was he inverted the usual progression of iris if both faces are featured. Usually the powder precedes the root; the opposite happens here.

Marc Zini

Before the iris arrives cypress and baie rose provide the first impression. Then the rooty face appears through a layer of lentisk and galbanum. This creates a glossy silky effect. Like feeling it slip through your fingers. Through a heart of cinnamon and blackcurrant buds the iris morphs into its powdery face. Now this is an odd animalic gourmand accord as leather and vanilla interact most prominently. The vanilla along with the cinnamon forms a bakery confection dusted with iris powder. While a rich leather contrasts the gentle powder. M. Zini finds the place where this pleasantly harmonizes.

Iris Malikhan has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.

Iris Malikhan lives for its tonal shifts. It makes it quite dynamic on my skin. It ends up in a quite different place than where it starts. It is because the creative team knows what they mean when they use the word texture.

Disclosure: This review is based on a sample I purchased.

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Maison Crivelli Papyrus Moleculaire- The Texture of Powder

I am not opposed to powdery fragrances. They do have a line they can cross. I prefer them in smaller quantities. Once it wanders into the area where I can almost see the cloud that I am smelling that is too far for me. This is purely a matter of taste. There are women in my life that carry off the latter style beautifully. I just have a problem spending a few hours with it. Which is why when one in the style I like comes along I smile. Maison Crivelli Papyrus Moleculaire is one of those.

Thibaud Crivelli

At the end of 2018 creative director Thibaud Crivelli released a collection of perfume in which he wanted to focus on textural accords. Over the first six releases he has largely succeeded. The perfumes all have a moment, or two, where the scent has a tactile feeling. In Papyrus Moleculaire this aesthetic becomes further refined.

Leslie Girard

M. Crivelli encountered the titular note as papyrus powder in an encounter with a cigarillo smoking women. It made him want to turn this version of papyrus into a perfume. He turned to perfumer Leslie Girard. Mme Girard took the inspiration and combined it with other powdery ingredients. It results in a compelling piece of perfumery.

Papyrus when it is usually used has a watery woody green scent profile. Mme Girard in thinking of it as a powder focuses on the woodiness. It forms a kind of sawdust-like effect. In the early going coriander and elemi coax what remains of the green out from the papyrus. In the heart is where the powdery texture is achieved as carrot seed, amyris, and iris fold themselves in. Now the sawdust takes on a more floral powderiness. The papyrus does not lend itself to being overstated. Mme Girard feathers in her heart notes to give the powder a different feel altogether. This is where I feel the textural shift the brand speaks about. It finishes with softly sweet facets of tonka and resinous frankincense.

Papyrus Moleculaire has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.

I am rapidly becoming quite fond of this brand. It is not often that the aesthetic stated is achieved. In addition as M. Crivelli oversees each new release he is seemingly becoming more assured in how he wants it to be achieved. Papyrus Moleculaire succeeds because of it.

Disclosure: This review is based on a sample I purchased.

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Maison Crivelli Citrus BatiKanga- Hot Citrus

Citrus perfumes are for hot weather is as much an axiom as not wearing white after Labor Day. To any informal rule there are reasons as well as exceptions. The reason for the citrus rule is most perfumes which feature it have a chilly overall feeling. Ideal to wear on a hot day. The exceptions are when a perfumer decides to find the deeper quality to these inherently sunny ingredients. That is what occurs with Maison Crivelli Citrus BatiKanga.

Thibaud Crivelli

Maison Crivelli was founded by Thibaud Crivelli at the end of 2018 with the release of a debut collection of five. Citrus BatiKanga is the first addition since then. I was interested in this brand initially because M. Crivelli spoke about how he wanted to make fragrance with texture. The first five all lived up to that. For Citrus Batikanga, working with perfumer Bertrand Duchaufour, it continues that aesthetic.

Bertrand Duchaufour

M. Duchaufour uses an interesting counterbalance to the citrus; red chili. Hot oily red chili. I wasn’t sure what this would be. Turns out a little heat for my citrus is good.

Citrus BatiKanga opens with bergamot, pomelo, and orange forming the citrus accord. M. Duchaufour supports this with a bit of rhubarb and cardamom. It creates a less effulgent citrus. It still seems sunny but more similar to sunset than high noon. This is where the chili oil comes in. There is this quality of repressed heat in the chili oil used here which forms that textural contrast M. Crivelli desires. Red sunlight and red chili oil work together nicely. Vetiver uses its citrus-like grassy high harmonics to bring the fiery citrus down into the its woody embrace. It finishes with the soothing sweet resins of myrrh acting as if to quench the fire.

Citrus Batikanga has 12-14 hour longevity and average sillage.

Citrus BatiKanga is a great cooler weather citrus scent. I wore this on warmer than normal winter days and it didn’t seem like it was struggling to be sniffed. I think on those cool spring mornings coming up this is going to be just the ticket.

Disclosure: This review is based on a sample I purchased.

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Maison Crivelli Absinthe Boreale- Aurora Fougere


All the way down here at Colognoisseur HQ we had a visit from the aurora borealis. Watching the undulating lights from my porch was a surprise. It was also serendipity as I was wearing a perfume inspired by that phenomenon, Maison Crivelli Aurora Boreale.

Thibaud Crivelli

I only recently obtained the collection of five perfumes released by creative director Thibaud Crivelli starting last year. One of the things that made me seek the brand out was the idea of combining texture and keynote. When a creative director seeks to add a conscious textural element it can elevate the fragrance beyond the ordinary. When I tried all five perfumes, I found M. Crivelli was not just writing press releases he was achieving his desired aesthetic. The one which captured my attention most fully was the brief of absinthe over snow colored by the aurora overhead. Working with perfumer Nathalie Feisthauer, M. Crivelli imagined a frosty fougere over which absinthe and shadow reigns.

Nathalie Feisthauer

Absinthe Boreale opens on an icy accord of artemisia, lemon, and geranium. That’s the chilly field of snow you stand upon. Mme Feisthauer finds a pleasantly balanced chill so that the lavender rises over it with an herbal-focused floral scent. It pulls at the geranium as along with the wormwood the sky begins to undulate in waves of glowing green. This is a wonderfully realized accord of shadow and light. Mme Feisthauer further adds texture with oakmoss representing the darkness of the night sky behind the aurora. The scent of the nearby woods adds the finishing touch.

Absinthe Boreale has 12-14 hour longevity and average sillage.

Absinthe Boreale is a great fall fougere. It complements the frost in the air with an olfactory version all its own. I would also encourage readers to try the other Maison Crivelli releases if you also enjoy textural perfumes. M. Crivelli is doing a great job of living up to his potential.

Disclosure: This review is based on a sample I purchased.

Mark Behnke