2013 in Review: Best of & Favorites Lists

Source: ronienfoque.com.br

Source: ronienfoque.com.br

The end of the year is almost upon us, so it seems like a good time for a “Year in Review” post with a list of favorites. I can’t say it has been easy for a variety of reasons. For one thing, I always struggle with lists, both in terms of placement and selecting the thing which will take that last spot. For another, I think I may be a little fickle in terms of my favorites, as perfumery can be as much about mood as other subjective factors.

In the case of fragrances that debuted in 2013, it’s been even harder. Honestly, I wasn’t impressed by the vast majority of the new releases that I tested, and the ones I did enjoy wouldn’t amount to a full ten in number. I’m not going to put something on a list simply and solely to round out the numbers, especially if I was underwhelmed with the scent in question or thought it had some serious problems. Take, for example, Tom Ford‘s Shanghai Lily from the Atelier d’Orient line. It is a scent that I liked the most out of Tom Ford’s various new collections this year, but that is a relative thing, not an absolute thing. Just because I liked it more than the rest of the 2013 Tom Fords doesn’t mean I would classify the scent as one of the best of the year. I certainly wouldn’t include Plum Japonais which I found to be a badly done, distorted copy of my beloved Fille en Aiguilles from Serge Lutens.

Mohur pure parfum extrait. Source: Fragrantica.

Mohur pure parfum extrait. Source: Fragrantica.

Another problem is that I’m not sure I should include one scent that was supposed to be released this year, and which I adored when I got to test it, but whose release was subsequently pushed back until Spring 2014. It is Neela Vermeire‘s Mohur Extrait, the formerly named Mohur Esprit. It would definitely be in my list of top 2013 favorites, and I considered saving it for the Best of 2014. In the end, I’ve cheated by including it here for 2013 with an asterisk next to its name.

In reality, my absolute favorite fragrances came from a wide range of years, but since this is the first year of the blog, everything was technically “new” for the purposes of my reviews. So, I’m going to do two lists or, to be more technically accurate, 2.5 lists: my top fragrances released in 2013, even if the number falls short of ten; then my personal top 10 of the perfumes I covered in 2013, followed by the next 15 for an overall top 25 favorites.

TOP NEW RELEASES OF 2013:

  1. Photo: Oleksiy Maksymenko. Source: FineArtAmerica. (Website link embedded within photo.)

    Photo: Oleksiy Maksymenko. Source: FineArtAmerica. (Website link embedded within photo.)

    LM Parfums Hard Leather. Lust in the woods. A scent that, despite the “leather” in its name, is really more about dark woods, oud, incense, and sandalwood, than it is about leather. That said, the stunning, lusty leather and animalic musk give Hard Leather the best opening of a fragrance that I’ve tried in years. Pure, utter sex appeal, and lust. Sex in a bottle. An opening that sweeps me off my feet each time I smell it, and a gorgeous drydown as well. The middle stage isn’t particularly my cup of tea, but if one takes the scent as a whole and judges things on the basis of how intensely one wants a full bottle, then Hard Leather has to come in at first place. That said, I definitely wouldn’t recommend it for everyone. For one thing, I think Hard Leather skews very masculine in nature, and even some men may find it excessively dry, dark, or animalic, but I loved it and it is my favorite new fragrance of 2013.

  2. Dress: Rami Kadi Haute Couture Spring-Summer 2013. Source: FlipZone and Tweets.seraph.me

    Dress: Rami Kadi Haute Couture 2013. Source: FlipZone.

    Neela Vermeire Mohur Extrait**  I like the regular Mohur eau de parfum, but Mohur Extrait is profoundly stronger, deeper, and richer. It has a va-va-voom oomph that transforms the pale, quiet, restrained, sometimes excessively delicate rose Mohur into Cinderella at the ball. A Cinderella with a diva’s charisma, and wearing the most opulent ball gown and jewels around. Mohur Extrait is a deep, rich, potent blend of roses, with real Mysore sandalwood, iris, and violets. There is a touch of leather, smoky elemi, and pepper to prevent it from being too dainty or femme, and the whole thing sits on an ambered base that is faintly milky but always infused with that beautiful, rich, creamy Mysore sandalwood. Mohur Extrait is simply beautiful, and a head-turner.  **I’m cheating, as Mohur Extrait’s release has been pushed back until 2014, but dammit, it debuted at the Milan Esxence show, so I’m going to include it in my list of 2013 releases.

  3. Source: Philolog at Traumwerk.Stanford.eduViktoria Minya Hedonist. A stunningly golden, happy, but refined, sophisticated, lush, floral oriental, Hedonist sparkles and soothes at the same time. It opens with Bourbon-like, boozy, dark honeycombs that are infused with lush peach, heady jasmine, citrus notes and some orange blossom, all perfectly blended in a soft, golden cloud. It eventually turns into a honey, beeswax and vanilla scent that soothes you in its soft sweetness. Whenever I wear it, I feel calmer, more relaxed, like a cat stretching out in the warmth of the sun. Hedonist has a truly classique feel of haute perfumery, but it never feels dated or old-fashioned, in my opinion. It is elegant and opulent without being excessive, heady but perfectly balanced, and sparkles in a way that reminds me both of champagne and the sunniest of skies in the South of France. Truly beautiful, and a stunning debut from Viktoria Minya.
  4. Source: it.forwallpaper.com

    Source: it.forwallpaper.com

    Oriza L. Legrand Chypre Mousse. Elfish green and the floor of a fairy forest filled with the essence of nature in a delicate but strong bouquet of oakmoss, wet leaves, mushrooms, herbs, a strip of dark leather taken over by nature’s minted greens, and a touch of balsamic resins. It’s really hard to describe in many ways, as this is not a traditional chypre, and may be the most unusual, otherworldly scent I’ve encountered. Chypre Mousse stopped me in my tracks, made me turn around on my way to the mecca of Serge Lutens to buy my bell jar, and became something I had to have after a mere 15 minutes, further tests or development be damned. Chypre Mousse won’t be for everyone, but those who love it will experience an incredibly potent, extremely green fragrance that lasts an enormous amount of time for such a seemingly delicate, ethereal scent.

  5. Marion Cotillard photographed by Mert Alas & Marcus Piggott for French Vogue, September 2010. Source:  Glamscheck.com

    Marion Cotillard photographed by Mert Alas & Marcus Piggott for French Vogue, September 2010. Source: Glamscheck.com

    Amouage Fate Woman. Fate Woman is a beautiful chypre-oriental hybrid that starts off as a very restrained, cool, aloof scent that smells of citruses, oakmoss, and cool daffodils. Like shedding a sculptured black dress to reveal the sensuous lingerie underneath, Fate Woman turns warmer, more opulent, and sensuous with roses, jasmine, animalic notes, and creamy vanilla that is almost gourmand-like at times. The sensual, sophisticated heart turns warmer and more golden as the fragrance ends on labdanum amber, vanilla, and soft musk in a creamy blend that feels like cuddles after a heated night. I’m not a fan of the soapiness that appears at one point, but Fate Woman is a beautiful scent that starts off as controlled restraint before ending in warm abandon.

  6. Mary Cassat. "Mother Playing With Child."

    Mary Cassat. “Mother Playing With Child.”

    Neela Vermeire Ashoka. Ashoka is a creamy, milky fig and sandalwood fragrance with incense, peppered woods, iris, and other subtle tonalities. It has an enormously comforting vibe that feels like a mother’s warm embrace. It is not my favorite NVC creation, as it is far from my personal style which is much better suited to Neela Vermeire’s bolder, spicier creations. However, it is very well done, and an elegant fragrance that is definitely one of the top releases of the year as a whole. If any of the other NVC perfumes have felt too intense, too oriental, complicated, or fiery, then Ashoka will be for you.

  7. Source: ambafrance-kz.org

    Source: ambafrance-kz.org

    Lys Epona Lys Epona. Lys Epona is from a new French perfume house by the same name and sponsored by Jovoy Paris. It is a beautiful scent that caught my attention from the moment I sniffed it at Jovoy and, despite its sillage flaws and longevity problems, it is very well-done, extremely evocative, and has a very vintage vibe. It is also original, taking delicate white lilies, and infusing them with dark, animalic leather, and grassy, outdoorsy elements ranging from hay to daffodils, grass, and amber. The scent is supposed to replicate the dance between a courtesan and a Hussar cavalry officer in France’s elite Republican Guard. For me, however, it conjured up a Celtic princess astride a large white stallion, garbed in a softly burnished, slightly musky, brown leather cuirass, and draped with white lilies. Her skirt is made of hay, wheat and grass; her skin is coated in ambered oil; and her long hair braided with daffodils that matched the flowers in her horse’s mane. Truly, very well done, and the vintage, antique bottles from the 1930s are a perfect accompaniment to the scent.

  8. "Red Orange Rose Yellow Abstract" by LTPhotographs, Etsy Store. (Link to website embedded within, click on photo.)

    Photo: LTPhotographs, Etsy Store. (Website link embedded within.)

    Tauer Perfumes PHI – Une Rose de Kandahar. Andy Tauer’s PHI is a deep, spicy apricot-rose confection with rich vanilla mousse, dark green elements that almost feel mossy, and oriental flourishes ranging from tobacco to cinnamon and ambergris. It’s far from your usual rose scent, and I’d argue that the deep, dark flower isn’t even the main star of the show at times. PHI is a vibrant, sophisticated Oriental-hybrid with the faintest gourmand touches in a rich blend that that even those who don’t particularly like rose fragrances might enjoy.

  9. Ewan McGregor via The Daily Mail.

    Ewan McGregor via The Daily Mail.

    Parfums Retro Grand Cuir. Contradictions and paradoxes lie at the heart of Grand Cuir, which explores leather from one end of the spectrum to the other under the most civilized and sophisticated of veneers. It starts as raw leather coated with birch tar and pungent herbs before turning into the expensive, new black leather of a biker’s jacket, then burnished, softly aged leather with amber, before ending up as the most refined of creamy Italian suedes infused with amber, lavender, and skin-like musk. It’s a journey that is at once animalic and aldehydic, soapy clean, beginning as a masculine scent that is an aromatic, herbal fougère with leather, before it transforms into something very different. And the whole thing is done sotto voce, with the quiet firmness of a confident man who doesn’t believe he has to be flashy and loud to draw attention to himself. Very well done, and very refined.

MY PERSONAL TOP 10 FOR 2013:

Perfume reviewing is subjective by nature, but whittling down those personal choices into a favorites list is even more so. No-one ever agrees fully on a Top Ten list, whether it’s for movies, television shows, food, or some other category, and perfume is no different. So, I don’t expect any of you to agree with everything or even some of the things on this list, but these are my absolute favorites out of the modern, non-vintage scents available on the market and that I’ve tried this year.

I’ve struggled for hours over the placement and order, because I can be fickle and prefer some scents over others depending on mood. After re-testing a number of these, I think I have the order set, more or less, with the caveat that there may be a standard deviation of +1 or -1 for the fragrances listed. In other words, on one day, a fragrance coming in at #4 may be at #3 or #5 from one day to the next, but not really more than that. Then again, I can be a little fickle, ranking things is an utter nightmare, and who knows if this would be the precise order in two months from now? I did my best for now, however, so this is the list thus far.

  1. LM Parfums Hard Leather. As noted in my description above, I think this is sexy as hell. I’ll spare you additional heated descriptions, as I quite lose my cool whenever it comes to this fragrance.
  2. Source: high-definition-wallpapers.info

    Source: high-definition-wallpapers.info

    Serge Lutens Fille en Aiguilles. At first sniff, Fille en Aiguilles is Christmas in a bottle, from the pine tree before the fire to sugar-plum treats. Look closer, though, and you’ll find Fille en Aiguilles is really all about the frankincense. Spiralling swirls of dark smoke weave its way around the pine, the crushed needles on the forest floor, and the plummy fruits infused with ginger and spices. There is warmth and sweetness, despite the chill in the snowy forest outside. From start to finish, Fille en Aiguilles is my favorite scent from my favorite house. To my amusement, each and every time that I’ve taken perfume samples to share with friends, Fille en Aiguilles is consistently the one that men fall for. The last time I sprayed Fille en Aiguilles on someone, there were precisely 6 women sniffing his neck, his arms, and his chest. I practically had to fight him from grabbing my travel decant there and then for himself. Yet, Fille en Aiguilles is wholly unisex in nature; out of all the people I know who wear it, the vast majority are women.  

  3. Source: Warren Photographic at WarrenPhotographic.co.uk

    Source: Warren Photographic at WarrenPhotographic.co.uk

    Puredistance M. A masterpiece from Roja Dove, M has a citric chypre opening reminiscent of Hermès’ vintage Bel Ami that turns to a rich, smooth leather that briefly smells like the most expensive car seats. Soon, the leather is burnished by cognac, becoming soft, rich, and oiled with honeyed roses, jasmine, spices, and beeswax. At times, it feels a little like Serge LutensCuir Mauresque (see below at #11), but the leather phase doesn’t dominate the scent. In my opinion, the true essence of M is a molten, oriental labdanum amber. Simply stunning, from start to finish, and one of my favorite fragrances. I believe that M is unisex in nature, thanks to the florals and the honeyed amber drydown with cinnamon-dusted vanilla, but it will depend on one’s yardstick. Those who love pure florals, powdery scents, or gourmands will probably consider M to skew masculine. 

  4. Source: Huffington Post.

    Source: Huffington Post.

    Neela Vermeire Trayee. Someone once called Trayee a “force of nature,” in a slightly overwhelmed, stunned tone, and I think that’s quite true. The Bertrand Duchaufour creation is fiery, spicy, smoky, dusty, and woody, dominated by genuine, almost rare Mysore sandalwood in copious amounts that runs through the fragrance from top to bottom like a luscious red-gold vein. There are also two different kinds of Jasmine absolute, cardamom, cinnamon, saffron, ginger, frankincense, oud, amber, and a plethora of other notes, all superbly blended into a bouquet that is dry, dusty, spicy, sweet, and smoky. Trayee is intense, no doubt about it, but in its later development, it loses its dry, dusty, spiced smokiness, softens and turns warm with smooth, creamy sandalwood, and deep, slightly smoky amber. Trayee is a tempestuous, stormy, fiery, rich mix that I find utterly mesmerizing. If the perfume were a woman, she’d probably be the famous, legendary diva, Maria Callas, with a touch of the young Sophia Loren in all her hot-heated, Italian ways and a dash of the fierce Mistral wind. It is definitely a force of nature that evokes India in all its multi-faceted, complicated splendour.

  5. Photo: Jon Gonzo on Flickr. (Site link embedded within photo.)

    Photo: Jon Gonzo on Flickr. (Site link embedded within photo.)

    Amouage Tribute attar. Perhaps the smokiest of the smoky greats, Tribute reminds me of Darth Vader’s perfect rose, a rose thoroughly infused with darkness and smoke. It’s utterly spectacular, though the variations in batch numbers is troublesome, leading some versions to be out-of-balance and with such disproportionate smokiness that a handful of people have reported experiencing an almost ashtray-like note. Still, the version I tested was magnificent, and makes Tribute my favorite Amouage scent thus far.

  6. Source: 123rf.com photos.

    Source: 123rf.com photos.

    Chanel Coromandel (Les Exclusifs). My favorite, modern Chanel scent is Coromandel, hands down and by a landslide. It’s probably no surprise, as it is made by my favorite perfumer, the brilliant Christopher Sheldrake who normally works with Serge Lutens. Coromandel begins on an intense frankincense note before turning into a milky Chai tea dusted with white chocolate powder and infused with deep, mellow patchouli. It is my favorite sort of patchouli with its nutty, smoky, woody, spicy, ambered warmth, instead of that vile purple, fruited, syrupy, fruit-chouli. The whole mix is perhaps the most refined, addictive, creamy patchouli-incense fragrance I have encountered. If I could take a bath in Coromandel nightly, I would, because I find something endlessly soothing and indulgent about its ambered, golden warmth.

  7. Source: layoutsparks.com

    Source: layoutsparks.com

    Serge Lutens Fourreau Noir. Nothing in Fourreau Noir should make it a fragrance that I would like, as I normally despise lavender with a fiery passion. I’m actually quite phobic about the note, and the mere mention of the word makes me shudder. But there is magic in Serge Lutens and Christopher Sheldrake’s touch, and the two wizards created the most beautiful scent imaginable. It helps that Fourreau Noir is ultimately not about the lavender at all, in my opinion, but about the incense. From the very first moment, until the fragrance’s end in a cloud of spiced, mellow, patchouli infused with amber and vanilla, the dark tendrils of black smoke weave their way around you. It also helps that the dried lavender transforms into creamy lavender ice-cream with almonds. The real gem in Fourreau Noir, however, is that incense and ambered-patchouli cocoon at the heart of the scent. It says something when a lavender-phobe can love a fragrance with a note they despise; it says more when they go out of their way to purchase an expensive bell jar of it. Which I did….  

  8. Source: materialicious.com

    Source: materialicious.com

    Téo Cabanel Alahine. A Moroccan souk filled with spices under a turquoise sky. Sumptuous, dark, red roses concentrated to their headiest essence. Golden amber as far as the eye can see with rich, dark, toffee’d caramel, labdanum amber. A powerfully start of incredibly booziness, but a finish that is pure, vintage Bal à Versailles without the skank or dirtiness. Alahine is a fiery, spicy, incredibly complex, oriental monster that may require a bit of Stockholm Syndrome to love. Spray on too much, she’ll blow out your nose, or traumatize you. Don’t give her enough time or tests, and you’ll be misled into thinking she is all booziness, Moroccan spices, and smoke. It seems to require four tests to understand Alahine, and not be overpowered by her intense, smoldering start. It can take time to see that her real nature is the most sophisticated of slinky black dresses, cut low and deep, with a va-va-voom glamour that is opulent, French classicism at its best. Yet, Alahine ends as a really plush, soft, golden, slightly powdered warmth that is as rich as a cashmere, camel overcoat. Don’t let the roses fool you; Alahine is unisex, and I know a number of very masculine men who love its boozy, spiced fieriness deeply.

  9. Source: e-boolean.org

    Source: e-boolean.org

    Dior Mitzah (La Collection Privée). A start of dark incense that belongs in a Chinese temple, followed by an ode to labdanum amber in all its richness. Labdanum is the true form of amber, and Mitzah highlights all of its facets from honeyed, toffee’d, slightly dirty, occasionally leathery, and deeply warm in an incredibly refined blend that is also infused with smoke, roses, and patchouli. It’s a wave of richness that made Mitzah much loved, and I find it utterly baffling that Dior decided to discontinue one of its most popular scents. However, you can still find Mitzah online and at Dior boutiques while supplies last, so if you haven’t tried the scent and you love amber, I urge you to get a sample as soon as you can.

  10. Oriza L. Legrand Chypre Mousse. (See above. Or, better yet, read the review, as this is one scent that is very hard to describe.) 

THE NEXT 15 FOR THE LIST OF THE TOP 25.

  1. Source: hamillgallery.com

    Source: hamillgallery.com

    Serge Lutens Cuir Mauresque. Cuir Mauresque is a shamefully under-appreciated fragrance, in my opinion. It’s one of my favorite leather scents, and, apparently, Serge Lutens’ own choice of perfume to wear. He and Christopher Sheldrake focus on taming animalic leather by infusing it first with clove-studded oranges and spices, then hefty amounts of heady jasmine absolute and orange blossoms. He uses powder to cut through the animalic skank and civet, keeping it perfectly balanced, while also weaving in dark incense, styrax, cedar and ambered resins. The resulting combination resembles Bal à Versailles at times, and oozes pure sex appeal, in my opinion. Cuir Mauresque is wholly unisex in nature. Some men find the leather too powdery, while some women find the skank to be a little too much. It will depend on your tastes. I’ve started using my parents — aka The Ultimate Perfume Snobs who taught me about perfumery to begin with– as my yardstick for other people’s perception of “skank” and leather. My father who finds Hard Leather to be too animalic and “dirty” has Cuir Mauresque as his second favorite leather scent after Puredistance M. In contrast, my mother (who adores Hard Leather and doesn’t find it to be “dirty” at all) thinks Cuir Mauresque is feminine sex appeal and utterly addictive. Your yardstick may vary, but if you love leather fragrances and some skank, then you really should try Cuir Mauresque.

  2. Viktoria Minya Hedonist. (See above.)
  3. "Abstract streams of gold." Photo: Jason Tockey. Site: jstimages.wordpress.com

    “Abstract streams of gold.” Photo: Jason Tockey. Site: jstimages.wordpress.com

    Profumum Roma Ambra Aurea. Profumum’s ode to goldenness focuses not on amber, but on ambergris in all its deep, rich, salty, musky glory. It’s a very different matter and aroma, as my review tries to make clear. Ambra Aurea is the thickest, most golden, opaque, intense, salty-caramel amber fragrance around, a veritable deluge of one note heightened to its most concentrated essence with 43%-46% perfume oils. It’s a linear, non-stop soliflore that coats your skin for hours on end, emitting a slight smokiness from incense. There are strong undertones of labdanum amber that are, alternatively, nutty, toffee’d, honeyed, faintly dirty, and almost chocolate-y at times. In its final stage, Ambra Aurea smells of amber and incense with beeswax, saltiness, and sweetness. Lovely on its own, and lovely when used as a layering base, Ambra Aurea is the single richest amber on the market. It blows all the others out of the water, in my opinion, especially Serge LutensAmbre Sultan which also has a labdanum focus but which is like water in comparison.  

  4. Gisele Bundchen for Vogue Turkey March 2011. Photo: the always incredible Mert & Marcus.

    Gisele Bundchen for Vogue Turkey March 2011. Photo: the always incredible Mert & Marcus.

    LM Parfums Sensual Orchid. A seductive floral oriental, Sensual Orchid is centered on the eponymous flower. On my skin, the orchid is a delicate, pastel, floral note that feels as crystal clear, clean, bright and sparkling as a bell rung at the top of the Swiss alps. It smells of lilies, peonies, hyacinth, rose, jasmine, vanilla — all wrapped into one in a cool, clean, crystal liquidity. It is followed by the richest ylang-ylang; custardy vanilla; a hint of smoky woods; bitter, green-white almonds; and boozy cognac fruitedness. The final result is incredibly narcotic, dramatic, opulent, and heady. For me, Sensual Orchid is all about dressing to undress, and to seduce. It is a scent that definitely skews feminine in nature, though I know a number of men to love it as well.

  5. George drawing via Vogue Italia.

    George drawing via Vogue Italia.

    Jardins d’Ecrivains George. Feminine orange blossoms turned masculine in an ode to George Sand. The potent flowers are transformed into something leathered, dark, and faintly dirty with tobacco, resins, and more. From a mentholated beginning with neroli, George slowly takes on paper, coffee, and tobacco notes, followed by heliotrope, myrrh and Peru Balsam in a play of hardness and softness, lightness and dark, masculine and feminine. Leathered orange blossoms is quite an original take on the usually indolic flowers, and I was taken enough by George to buy a full bottle. Some find the scent far too masculine for a woman, which rather defeats the whole point of a fragrance meant to reflect the particular character of George Sand. I think it’s unisex, though you have to like your neroli and orange blossoms with a dark, dirty edge.

  6. Source: 123rf.com

    Source: 123rf.com

    Arabian Oud Kalemat. Kalemat is a fantastically affordable, easy, rich oriental centered on a honeyed amber with tobacco, incense, and dry cedar tonalities. It opens with dark berries that smell like blueberry purée, infused with honey and incense, then a rich, deep Damascena rose joins the party. Eventually, Kalemat turns into a non-powdery, more concentrated version of Serge Lutens’ tobacco-y Chergui with touches of Hermes’ Ambre Narguilé, Tom Ford’s Tobacco Vanille, and, for some, Amouage’s Interlude Man. There is a subtle whiff of oud underlying the mix, along with dried cedar. Heady and potent at first, Kalemat becomes a sheer cloud that envelopes you in a golden haze of sweetness, dryness, woodiness and incense. It lasts for hours and hours, smells incredibly expensive, and is highly affordable. If you love ambers, tobacco-incense fragrances, or sweet scent like any of those mentioned above (including Guerlain’s Spiritueuse Double Vanille), then you really should give Kalemat a sniff.

  7. Arabian Horse tumblr_m7dtkdCrFl1rwt5gqo1_500Amouage Jubilation XXV (Men). I love Jubilation XXV, and always regret that it has very little longevity on my wonky skin. What a beautiful opening! Dark oranges infused with incense, balsamic resins, cedar, patchouli, ambergris and a faint touch of oud in a deep, rich blend that often makes me think of HermèsElixir de Merveilles, but better. A few hours later, Jubilation XXV takes you to the wintery outdoors, with a large stone campfire amidst a dark, dry Guaiac forest, a brisk, chill in the air and the smell of burning leaves. There is a slightly medicinal, synthetic, pink band-aids undertone to the oud, but the fragrance is really well done as a whole. If Jubilation XXV lasted on my skin beyond a mere 5.5 hours, it would be ranked much higher.   
  8. Painting by Holly Anderson. "Spherical Romance Art Set" via Artbarrage.com. (Website link embedded within.)

    Painting by Holly Anderson. “Spherical Romance Art Set” via Artbarrage.com. (Website link embedded within.)

    Nasomatto Black Afgano. In essence, Black Afgano is a super-concentrated, richer, deeper version of YSL‘s fabled M7 in its original, vintage form. It’s a smoky plethora of darkness from the dark, quasi/fake “hashish” elements and cherry-cola labdanum amber with all its nutty, toffee’d undertones, to the incense, the oud (supplemented by Norlimbanol), leather tonalities, and resinous sweetness. I didn’t enjoy the synthetic nuances to the oud or the Norlimbanol, but I liked the fragrance as a whole. It seems Black Afgano may have been reformulated to dilute some of its super smokiness and render the fragrance more sweet, as it wasn’t the dark monster of brutish repute that I had expected. If it has changed, then perhaps the reformulation merely makes it more unisex. Those looking for a version of vintage M7 with deeper potency, sillage, and longevity, should definitely check out Black Afgano.   

  9. Source: Wallpapers4desktop.net

    Source: Wallpapers4desktop.net

    Serge Lutens De Profundis. A hauntingly delicate, evocative floral that captures the essence of flowers in purple twilight and feels like a call to Spring. It opens with its core note, chrysanthemums. that have been blended with violets, green notes, white lilies, and sweet, wet earth. Lurking at the edges are peonies, chamomile flowers, incense, a dash of light roses, a whisper of purple lilacs, and some ISO E Super. The flowers feel incredibly dewy and light, almost tender and soft. It is as though they are just waking up, releasing the airiest of delicate floral scents. De Profundis is, at the start, a cool fragrance that is almost chilly in its delicacy. As time passes, however, the floral aroma becomes stronger, more robust, almost as if the flowers have fully bloomed in the sunlight. The dew has evaporated, the petals unfurled, and the meadow floor comes to life with earthy softness, light smoke, and every bit of green around. De Profundis is a bit too watery for my personal tastes, and I’m generally not one for pure florals, but it’s hard not to be swayed by its pale, ethereal delicacy. It is really a hauntingly elegant scent.    

  10. Source: YouTube.com

    Source: YouTube.com

    Dior Ambre Nuit (La Collection Privée). If Mitzah was Dior’s ode to labdanum amber, then Ambre Nuit must be its homage to ambergris. On my skin, Ambre Nuit is smoky, liqueured, salty-sweet amber, with dry woods and a quiet touch of delicate roses that have been rendered a little fiery from pepper and a little sweet from patchouli. It is laced with black incense, creating a mix that evokes parts of Chanel’s Coromandel. There is something extremely sensuous about Ambre Nuit which often makes me think of the Argentinian tango. The ambergris’ special, unique features evoke the warmth of heated, slightly musky skin that has been rendered just the faintest bit salty from sweat. The incense conjures up the smoky, dark feel of those dance rooms, while the gaiac and cedar replicate the incredibly smooth, wooden floors that the dancers glide across. The rose never features much on my skin, though it does on others. On me, the patchouli is more prominent with its spicy, sweet, often chocolate-y mellowness. It’s a beautiful combination, and my second favorite scent from Dior’s refined Privée line.

  11. Painting by Gyula Tornai (1861-1928): "In the Harem."

    Painting by Gyula Tornai (1861-1928): “In the Harem.”

    Maison Francis Kurkdjian Absolue Pour Le Soir. Described by some as beastly, by others as “dirty,” Absolue Pour Le Soir is my favorite from MFK, but how you respond to it will depend very much on your personal yardstick for honey, cumin, and animalic notes. For me, Absolue conjures up the heart of a Turkish harem besieged by musky, leather-armoured warriors. They bang on the sandalwood doors which open to release spirals of incense, as honey-swathed concubines approach to tempt with deep roses and indolic ylang-ylang. Absolue Pour Le Soir begins as an instant war between warm human flesh, the mysteries of floral-draped women, sweet honeyed intimacy, animalic leather, and feral, musky masculinity. As if tamed, the fragrance later softens to a creamy, spiced sandalwood infused with honey, dark resins, frankincense, and a dollop of roses. It’s lovely, though I’ve found myself holding it at more of a distance these days, perhaps because of the sharpness of the honey which is a core element of the scent. Still, if you want a truly skanky Oriental with the most golden of ambered hues and endless layers of complexity, you should rush to try Absolue Pour Le Soir.

  12. Amouage Fate Woman. (See description above.)
  13. Source: wallpapersnatural.com

    Source: wallpapersnatural.com

    Tauer Perfumes’ Une Rose Chyprée. I’m generally not one for rose scents, but Andy Tauer’s Une Rose Chyprée is an exception. It’s a spectacular chypre-oriental hybrid that features an autumnal, ambered rose nestled in the mossiest of green cocoons. The fragrance swirls all around you in a veiled shimmer of greens, garnet red, earthiness, and mossy trees — all rolled into one. This is a green rose whose petals were crushed into the damp, wet soil of the forest floor; a rose that lies nestled amidst fresh, just slightly mineralized, faintly bittersweet mosses; a rose infused with the concentrated essence of a thousand dark green, slightly spicy, peppered leaves, then sprinkled with hints of alternatively tart and zesty citruses. It is a rose that is fruited, but spiced with cinnamon, and wrapped with the tendrils of black incense. Some chypres can be haughty, cold, aloof numbers that keep you at a distance. Une Rose Chyprée is almost a coquettish chypre that beckons you with a sweet smile, despite the emeralds and rubies glowing around her elegant, rosy throat. If it didn’t have an enormous amount of ISO E Super and didn’t give me a ferocious, piercing headache, I would definitely be tempted to buy a full bottle. Nonetheless, it’s an absolutely beautiful scent, and my favorite from Andy Tauer.  

  14. Tauer Perfumes’ PHI – Une Rose de Kandahar. (See description above.)
  15. Edward Steichen photo, 1931. Molyneux dress. The Condé Nast collection.

    Edward Steichen photo, 1931. Molyneux dress. The Condé Nast collection.

    Puredistance Opardu. I’m not the sort to be deeply moved by pure florals, but Opardu has one of the most beautiful openings in the genre that I’ve encountered in years. It almost gave me whiplash as I smelled the bouquet of lilacs — vast fields of purple with a scent that was concentrated, pure, and incredibly delicate. It was followed by violets, tuberose, jasmine, lush gardenia and heliotrope in a stunning mix. It is pure, unadulterated, classique, haute elegance that calls back to the golden age of perfumery. On my skin, unfortunately, that spectacular start lasts only a brief hour before it fades, and then sheer, vaguely floral powderiness takes over. If there were a way to capture and retain that beginning, Opardu would undoubtedly be in my Top 10. As it is, I think it’s a beautifully feminine fragrance with Puredistance’s signature touch of great refinement, elegance, and luxuriousness.

So, that’s my Year in Review. I may end up having a separate post next week that divides fragrances into categories, from Ambers and Leathers, to Floral Orientals, Pure Florals, Gourmands, and the like. I’m still undecided, as I know it will take forever to compile, and some genres may only have one or two entries in it. Others may have far too many to choose from. In case you hadn’t noticed, I tend to focus on Orientals, and I rarely stick my toe into such fields as foodie gourmands, crisp colognes, or aldehydic fragrances. Plus, many Orientals are either hybrids or have two or more dominant elements that can make the scent fall into different categories. As a result, I’m not sure how useful or precise such a list will be, but we shall see.

As the year draws to a close, I want to wish you all Happy Holidays. I hope that the upcoming year brings you endless joy, peace, prosperity, good health, success, love and laughter. Thank you for staying on this journey with me, and here’s to a great 2014!

Viktoria Minya & The World of A “Nose”

A grey afternoon in Paris unexpectedly turned into one of the most fascinating, educational perfume experiences I’ve had in a long, long time. It’s all thanks to Viktoria Minya. She gave me the chance to peek behind the curtain, and to glimpse a small portion of the life of a “nose.” We talked about everything from IFRA/EU restrictions on perfumes, how she studied to become a “nose,” some of the surprising things she deals with in perfume creation, and the very elementary basics of the raw materials that noses use to create fragrances. I hope you enjoy the glimpse behind the perfumed curtain.

Viktoria Minya. Source: Fragrantica.

Viktoria Minya. Source: Fragrantica.

Hedonist. Source: Parfums Viktoria Minya on Facebook.

Hedonist. Source: Parfums Viktoria Minya on Facebook.

Viktoria Minya is a perfume creator who founded Parfums Viktoria Minya, but also an actual, genuine, trained “nose.” Her debut perfume, Hedonist, is a gorgeous, luxurious, elegant, airy, honeyed-floral affair that I really loved. But I also enjoyed the little bit that I got to know of Ms. Minya herself in our email correspondence at the time. Then, a few weeks ago, close to the time of my departure to Paris, and by a complete fluke involving something else, we had a few email exchanges where I happened to mention that I would be in her city. Unfortunately, both our schedules seemed extremely complicated, and it seemed unlikely that we’d be able to meet.

Then, while roaming the streets of Paris one afternoon, and with some incredibly lucky timing that happened out of the blue, everything seemed to fall into place. I somehow found myself in her perfume studio, sitting across from an absolutely beautiful woman with the most unbelievably stunning eyes, and the warmest smile. (Not a single photo that I’ve seen of Ms. Minya actually does her — and her eyes — justice.) Ms. Minya had prepared a lovely selection of things for me to nibble on while we talked and before we went into her actual work area where she has her perfume “organ.” (See photo below.) As I ate some French cheese (yes, I said cheese! And she didn’t even know of my obsession with it!), I tried to focus on the conversation but those absolutely mesmerizing eyes made it a little hard at times. Plus, as usual for this entire trip, I was somewhat in a daze from sleep-deprivation.

As a result, I fear I don’t remember all the details of the technical stuff I learnt, but I thought I would share some aspects that I found really fascinating, from the issue of IFRA (the “International Fragrance Association”), to her studies as a nose, the black market for ingredients, and more. Then, later, I’ll share what it was like in her perfume studio with all the raw materials and the perfume oils. The photos I took suffered from the problem that I mentioned earlier in another post: my camera is dying, so some of the images are blurred and the writing on the bottles isn’t always completely clear. Hopefully, though, it will give you an idea of the sorts of things a “nose” may have in her arsenal, and the feel of that day.

Photo: my own.

Ms. Minya’s perfume “organ.” Photo: my own.

In terms of general discussion, one of the things that came up a few times was the impact of the IFRA and EU restrictions. You and I — consumers and buyers of perfume products — usually think about the impact in terms of its effect on us. We moan about chypres and oakmoss, we talk about reformulations, and we gripe about the sorts of perfumes available to us or the massive changes to perfumery in just the last five years alone. We almost never think of what it must be like for a “nose.” It’s not surprising, after all, because their world is so far away from ours. But it’s not for Ms. Minya.

As an actual, working nose, the IFRA/EU restrictions create a whole different set of problems for Ms. Minya than they do for us. For one thing, I get the impression that she finds that they stifle creativity. (She was too polite to say so, but that was my impression.) For another, the restrictions have an impact on a nose’s actual business dealings with clients. Ms. Minya may have her own brand and perfume line, but she also works as a nose for clients to create scents in accordance with their particular wishes. She gave me one example of a situation where a client requested that she make a perfume with certain ingredients at a certain level. Again and again, she had to say something to the effect of: “No, it’s not possible to that extent,” or “No, that is illegal in the EU.”

Chris Bartlett of Pell Wall Perfumes Blog is a perfumer and consultant who has an absolutely wonderful, useful, eye-opening and completely depressing listing of all the IFRA/EU ingredient limits for Category 4 (fine perfumes in an alcohol-based solution). Though his list is not yet updated to include all the changes from the 47th Amendment of June 2013 (yes, I realise how ludicrous and Kafkaesque that sounds), I still look at it from time to time, usually resulting in complete irritation and annoyance at the EU. I looked again at the listing upon my return from Paris and in light of my meeting with Viktoria Minya — and I saw it in a whole new light from the perspective of a “nose.”

Let me give you some examples from Mr. Bartlett’s list of IFRA’s standards and limitations as of June and before the 47th Amendment took place. Some of the terms may seem like gobbledygook to you, but just pay attention to the percentage numbers at the end of each line (or whether the ingredient is permitted at all in perfume creation), and things will eventually become clearer:

Cumin oil 0.4%

Eugenol* [clove oil] 0.5%

Farnesol* 1.2%
Fig leaf absolute Prohibited
Galbanum ketone (various trade names; 1-(5,5-Dimethyl-1-cyclohexen-1-yl)pent-4-en-1-one) 1.13%
Geraniol* 5.3%  […]

Iso E Super 21.4%  [ME: GOOD GOD!!!!!!!!!!!!!]

Jasmine Absolute 0.7%

Jasmine Sambac Absolute 4%
Lemon (expressed) 2%
Lime (expressed) 0.7%

Musk ambrette Prohibited

Oakmoss Absolute 0.1%

Opoponax 0.4%

Peru balsam (crude) Prohibited

Quinoline Prohibited
Rose Ketones 0.02%
Santolina oil Prohibited
Safranal (2,6,6-Trimethylcyclohexa-1,3-dienyl methanal) 0.005%
Safrole, Isosafrole, Dihydrosafrole~ Prohibited (EOs containing these permitted if total below 0.01%)
Savin oil from Juniperus sabina Prohibited
Styrax (from Liquidambar styraciflua macrophyla or Liquidambar orientalis only) 0.6%
Styrax (all other species) Prohibited

Ylang ylang extracts 0.8%

* – the main sources of these chemicals is in natural materials and you need to work out how much is in all the oils that contain them and keep the total in your product below the levels quoted here. These are some of the most complex standards to ensure compliance with.

NB- The limits for Oakmoss and Tree Moss are cumulative (so the combination of both must be below 0.1%)

I tried to include in that list a good number of things with which we common lay-people are familiar, but, also, a portion of the many things marked with a red “Prohibited” notice (even if I have no idea what some of them are). The fact that things like ylang-ylang is limited to 0.8%, lime to 0.7%, and oakmoss at 0.1%, while that bloody, godawful “ISO E Supercrappy” (™ Sultan Pasha) can be as high as 21.4% suddenly clarifies things a bit more to me. It’s not just that some perfumers love that ghastly, cheap, synthetic crap; it’s that they are running out of ingredients to use at any substantial, rich or useful levels! I mean, seriously, some poor flower is at less than 1%, while the laboratory-created, aromatic equivalent of a hospital morgue’s antiseptic is at 21.4%??! Plus, a portion of the ingredients on the list are completely illegal to use?! To me, and from my layman perspective, that doesn’t seem to leave perfume noses with a huge amount of original options or alternatives.

Source: CaFleureBon

Source: CaFleureBon

Which brings us back to Viktoria Minya and her world. She went to school in Grasse, perhaps the heart and soul of the perfume creating world, and attended the Grasse Institute of Perfumery. I asked her about the program which is one-year long, and followed by internships within the perfume world. Within the program, the students take a variety of courses on such subjects as: natural and synthetic raw materials; fine fragrance formulation; legislation courses; evaluation courses; and even functional perfumery courses (how to create fragrances for soaps, shampoos, candles, shower gels, etc).

There was much more, too, but, again, the haze of a particularly grueling travelling schedule means I’ve forgotten some of the details. So, I did some research, and stumbled across a 2009 article called “Smelling like roses… or not” which actually quotes Ms. Minya as a student and which also talks about the way “noses” are trained:

In class, the students flared their nostrils against white tester strips dipped in scented, mostly clear liquid. The exercise tested their olfactory memories as they built on the more than 300 natural and synthetic odors they had memorized since the course began in late January. The task included identifying the scents’ compounds and family. […]

By the end of the yearlong course, which includes a mandatory internship at a fragrance company lasting several months, students will have acquired a lexicon of at least 500 raw materials; the rest of their creative arsenal, which eventually could include thousands of ingredients, will be developed in the field.

As for Viktoria, as that old article makes clear, lessons in building an olfactory memory bank sensitize the nose:

On a recent visit to a horse stable, Viktoria Minya had to hold her breath until she could step outside. And at home recently, the 27-year-old perfumery student has found she needs to take out the trash as often as three times per day. It’s a side effect of her developing olfactory organs: “I smell too much.”

The article also mentioned a few other interesting things:

“A perfume hides a story,” said Laurence Fauvel, a perfumer and one of the teachers at the school, which opened in February 2002. “To create something really new is very difficult.”  […][¶]

An official at the school estimated that about [only] 20 star “noses” exist worldwide.

Mr. Fauvel’s comment reminds me of the common line in many writing classes about how every plot or novel has essentially been written before. It’s true, and I’m sure the same theme applies, broadly speaking, to perfumery as well. But, to bring things full circle to perfume notes, it certainly can’t help when IFRA and the bloody EU restrict your options even further in terms of quantity and type of ingredients. As Ms. Minya told me, there are no longer quite as many avenues for self-expression and artistic creativity.

Vincent Van Gogh, "Irises" (1889). Source: hdwallshub.com

Vincent Van Gogh, “Irises” (1889). Source: hdwallshub.com

She compared the situation to a painter being told that he cannot use certain paint colours on his canvas, while other colours are limited in amount. So, perhaps it’s more apt to talk about “vibrancy” instead of the broader terms of “originality” and “creativity.” If a painter is forbidden from using brown paint, if he can only use blue if it’s 0.7% of his overall creation, and if green is limited to no more than 0.1%, then how do you end up with Van Gogh’s Irises? You can’t. You get a watered down, diluted, much less vibrant composition that may be good — perhaps even very good, in some cases — but it won’t be the masterpiece that is the Irises.

Stephen Weller, IFRA photo, via The Scented Salamander.

Stephen Weller, IFRA photo, via The Scented Salamander.

In the faintest fig leaf to appearing fair, I suppose I should mention IFRA’s side of things. Stephen Weller, IFRA’s Director of Communication, has given a few interviews in France defending his organisation as the supposed savior of certain key ingredients. The blog, The Scented Salamander, states that Mr. Weller:

makes the particularly salient point in this exchange that without IFRA, a number of perfumery ingredients would have altogether disappeared from the palette of the perfumer as they have come under attack from the European Union and before that pressure groups voicing their concerns…

Weller explains in this new interview with Premium Beauty News how his organism permits a more nuanced approach to the dermatological and allergic risks presented by aromatic materials.

You can read more about his claims at the Scented Salamander, but they essentially include the argument that you should thank IFRA for saving oakmoss and other ingredients from complete eradication in perfumery. I can see his point in theory, but I have great difficulties with his attempts to portray IFRA as the purely protective, angelic and benevolent savior of perfumedom! And don’t get me started on the oakmoss. Yes, the EU is driving most of this, now, but, correct me if I’m wrong, I believe early IFRA regulations started all this.

More to the point, and to use a parallel, I don’t see manufacturing associations putting restrictions on factories who produce food items or on chefs in restaurants simply because there are some pressure groups who complain about nut allergies. Some of the EU proposals (like the ludicrous idea of possibly banning Chanel No. 5 that I’ve talked about in another IFRA/EU post) are akin to shutting down the Eiffel Tower simply because 1%-3% of the EU’s 503.5 million population may have vertigo. (It’s been estimated that “1 to 3 percent of the EU population… are allergic or potentially allergic to natural ingredients contained in fine perfumes, according to a report published in July by the Scientific Committee on Consumer Safety (SCCS), an advisory body for the European Commission.” [Emphasis added.])

And IFRA’s substantive actions don’t seem like true championship or defense of the perfume industry to me. For example, why aren’t warning labels enough? They put such warnings on cigarettes, and on pre-packaged food items that may have been prepared in a factory that had some nuts in it. Are perfumes actually more dangerous to people’s health than cigarettes??! Also, why are perfumes to be regulated with such ingredients as the amount of lavender or citrus oils, but massage oils are left alone? Presumably, that minuscule percentage of EU citizens who have allergic reactions — or just the mere potential thereof — might possibly decide to have a massage one day. Why are those oils fine, but the ones in perfumery — which allergic people can simply avoid using — subject to increasingly Orwellian, draconian measures?

I’m sorry, I got sidetracked and derailed in rather irrational rage, so let’s leave the issue of IFRA and get back to the realities of creating a perfume. There, even apart from ingredient limitations, there are other hurdles to originality, too. This time, however, they pertain more to the business tail-end of things for one who is a brand’s creator or founder. Take, for example, the simple, seemingly prosaic issue of a perfume’s name. Now, obviously, you don’t want to use another brand’s exact name for your new creation, but I wasn’t aware of just how tricky the issue might be for French perfumers. According to Ms. Minya, back in the 1980s, many French companies bought up the legal rights to a whole host of names — lots of them being common adjectives or phrases — for future use. Now, when you try to launch your new perfume, there is a good chance that they might sue you for using one of their vast stable of trademarked names.

Hedonist. Source: Parfums Viktoria Minya on Facebook.

Hedonist. Source: Parfums Viktoria Minya on Facebook.

I remember hearing this, blinking and having a light bulb moment when she explained that this old 1980s situation is the reason why so many French perfumes have some generic variation of “Rose de ___” or “Vanille de ____”  as their name. To quote Ms. Minya: “This is why we have more and more names with numbers, botanical or common names of ingredients ( like “orange” ) and geographical names – because these cannot be trademarked by anybody.” I suspect this may be the reason why Neela Vermeire might have had to recently change the name of her upcoming Mohur “Esprit” to just plain “Mohur Extrait,” though I am just guessing. (I have not asked Ms. Vermeire, and I certainly don’t know for sure.)

While trademark concerns are hardly unique to France, the situation there seems a little more complicated for perfumers than for artisans or artists in other fields. Even if you can get the money to make a perfume, even if you survive the draconian IFRA/EU’s restrictions to make something good, even if you spend all the money for the further compliance minutiae, you still aren’t home scot-free. Now, you can’t even choose your perfume name without the risk of a lawsuit.

Yet, the real issue that I see is something much broader in reach: you need very big pockets to engage in the perfume game, and to survive. I’d like one day to explore the issue of perfume creation primarily from a perfume creator’s perspective, but it’s clear even now that the real bottom line is money and how hard it is for truly “niche” perfumers to flourish in light of so many minefields. Someone like Tom Ford — who is backed and owned by the Estée Lauder multi-national conglomerate — or Kilian Hennessey is obviously going to have a very different time of things than someone like Viktoria Minya, Andy Tauer, or Neela Vermeire.

To me, as a layman and outsider, each of the things discussed here seems to represent a noose tightening around the neck of a truly vibrant, creative, non-homogenous, flourishing perfume world where small voices have as much chance in the marketplace as the big behemoths. It’s a sad parallel to the overall conglomeratization of the world in general, from the media and entertainment industries to banking and the airlines. But the last time I checked, neither the banking nor airline worlds depended on creativity and the freedom of imagination, so it’s substantially worse when artistry is stifled in an industry like perfumery.

IMG_0034_4b

Size makes itself an issue for noses like Ms. Minya in some ways that surprised me. As promised, I’m going to spend a bit of time talking about the raw materials used in the perfume process. When I went into Ms. Minya’s actual perfume studio with its vast, impressive “organ,” I gasped. As far as the eye could see, there were bottles of ingredients. Everywhere! Not just the organ, but filling whole bookcases and even in a fridge. As I was exclaiming about the endless varieties of orange blossom, iris, or rose accords, Ms. Minya mentioned how obtaining some of the ingredients wasn’t easy. Apparently, some companies are extremely unwilling to sell in the sort of small order sizes appropriate to a small, individual perfumer or nose. I didn’t ask if the companies countered things by charging much more for orders that aren’t in bulk, because I never like to talk about money or intrude into someone’s financial matters, but I assume that it’s a frustrating hassle and obstacle at the very least.

So, let’s drop money, and move onto the actual ingredients in question. First, we should probably begin with the basic difference between a perfume oil and an essential oil. Now Smell This has an easy explanation that puts it much more succinctly than I could ever manage:

Essential oils are volatile, fragrant liquids extracted from plant leaves, bark, wood, stems, flowers, seeds, buds, roots, resins and petals, usually through steam distillation. In other words, they are raw materials that can be used to create perfumes. They are highly concentrated […].

Perfume oils are fragrance components, natural or synthetic, in an oily base rather than an alcohol base, and can be used directly on the skin.

Now, here’s a glimpse of some of the things in Ms. Minya’s arsenal:

Perfume oils distilled in 10% alcohol. You can see various types of orange-related oils on the top shelf, rose on the middle, and things like vetiver on the bottom. Remember, this curves all the way around.

Perfume oils distilled in 10% alcohol. You can see various types of orange-related oils on the top shelf, rose on the middle, and things like vetiver on the bottom. Remember, this curves all the way around.

A fridge filled with fragile perfume oils, or oils of the weakest strength and diluted in 1% alcohol.

A fridge filled with fragile perfume oils, or oils of the weakest strength and diluted in 1% alcohol.

As you can see from these photos (which you can click to expand even more), there are two separate categories of ingredients. One are the oils on her curving, circular “organ” which are ingredients diluted in a 10% alcohol base. The other photo shows bottles in a fridge, and that’s where my memory failed me. All I could really remember is that the latter are very expensive and have a very fragile shelf-life, so they are usually kept in a fridge to ensure that they last longer. So I wrote to Ms. Minya to ask for help in clarifying the differences between the various bottles, and this was her response:

what perfumers are working with are what we call “raw materials”, some of them are liquid ( like most essential oils ), some are powders ( like vanillin – molecule present in vanilla, I am using the very expensive Natural version of it), some are resins ( like peru balsam or mimosa absolute). Every perfumer has their different habits, but I like to work with them in a 10% solution form, they are called 10% solution or 10% solution of … ( any given raw materials ). This helps me to directly smell the “end product” after formulation.

Perfume oils like grapefruit or guaiac wood.

Oils like grapefruit and guaiac wood on the top row; magnolia and mandarin on the bottom.

Perfume oils distilled in 10% alcohol. Here, you can see different sorts of orange oils like bigarade to other sorts.

Oils distilled in 10% alcohol. Here, orange bigarade and what Ms. Minya tells me is a “different origins orange oil.”

The raw materials in the fridge are simply weaker, more diluted solutions of some raw materials ( so like 1% or 0.1% solutions ) OR fragile raw materials, like rose oil, the citrus oils like bergamot, mandarine, orange, lemon and lime, or spices like nutmeg and safran, etc. [Emphasis added.]

More of the almost diluted 1% oils in the fridge such as Ylang-Ylang and Osmanthus.

More of the almost diluted 1% oils in the fridge such as Ylang-Ylang, Osmanthus and some sort of Sandalwood.

More of some of the delicate but weakest "finishing" ingredients. You can see Narcissus Absolute is one of the ones in the first row to the left.

More of some of the delicate but weakest “finishing” ingredients. You can see Narcissus Absolute is one of the ones in the first row to the left.

[As a whole and generally,] the raw materials comes from the producers in “pure”. Then we dilute it with alcohol. 10% solution means 1 GR of rose oil -let’s say- and 9 GR of alcohol in a 10 ml bottle ( the ones you saw on my perfume organ ). 1% solution means 0,1GR of rose oil and 9,9GR of alcohol in a 10 ml bottle. The 1% solutions are for “fine-tuning”, sometimes it is to give a small aspect of a certain material, other times the given raw materials are very strong and we like to give just a tiny amount into the creation.

Just like the perfume you get from a boutique is a concentrate of pure mixture of raw materials which then is diluted with alcohol.

So, to simplify things if you’re a dodo like me, a 10% solution in Ms. Minya’s case has really just 1 gram of actual perfume oil, while a 1% solution has a mere 0.1 gram of the raw material.

Speaking of materials, Ms. Minya mentioned something just in passing that made me almost fall off my chair: there is apparently a whole, lurking black market for some ingredients! Guess in what context this issue arose? The thing about which I’m the greatest snob: sandalwood. It seems that my beloved Mysore sandalwood is so rare that some people — not all, but a tiny, unethical few, and primarily in the Far East or the Middle East — resort to the black market to obtain it. I imagine that this is an issue which applies more to some small-time or experimental perfumers who may not have the access to the very few places which still hoard have small quantities of Mysore sandalwood to sell at outrageous prices. It certainly seems related to the issue of how some companies selling raw ingredients are unwilling to fulfill small orders. Again, however, I do not like to discuss money, so I did not ask follow-up questions, but it is certainly something that gives one pause. A black market? Seriously? Who knew that perfumery could involve secret cloak-and-dagger skullduggery of the highest order?!

While I was absorbing this tidbit, Ms. Minya quietly assembled a little surprise for me: a blind testing of some of the concentrated perfume oils. She had actually just returned from Hungary where she’d given a lecture on the issue of perfumery, and had a lot of bottles previously prepared for a similar sort of demonstration. I can’t recall the precise percentage of what she made me sniff on strip after strip of the paper mouiellettes, but I believe it was the 10% stuff.

And it was quite an experience…. A number of notes that I’m very familiar with in actual perfume were wholly unrecognizable to me in essential form. Granted, I’ve never been particularly good at detecting the nuances of things from a mere paper strip and it’s a whole other matter on skin, but still! In a number of cases, I could detect the notes after the paper strips had time to breathe and develop, or, perhaps, to decrease from their concentrated opening moments. In other cases, however, the usually familiar notes smelled quite alien to my nose. Aldehydes? I wouldn’t or couldn’t have guessed correctly if you’d put a gun to my head. (In fact, I’m still finding it hard to believe that that odor was aldehydes!) Incense, one of my favorite notes? Forget it. I was absolutely convinced it was some type of wood, if my hazy memory serves me correctly. (Ms. Minya now tells me it was myrrh, but all it smelled like to me was dry wood.)

To my relief, and to avoid the complete destruction of my ego, some of my guesses at least hit upon the adjacent characteristics of a note. One of the first ingredients that Ms. Minya made me try smelled to me of smoke, amber, leather and wood. Well, all those things are either used with the ingredient, or are subset nuances of the note — which turned out to be….. patchouli. After she told me, it seemed somewhat obvious, but I have to emphasize the “somewhat” part of that statement. In reality, for me, the essence of one of my favorite ingredients really did NOT have the exact same smell as it did when mixed in with other stuff in an actual perfume. And this was the case quite often. (The one exception was the synthetic, Safranal, which smelled precisely as it did in some saffron-oud perfumes, was so strong that a mere drop on a mouiellette completely overwhelmed all the other paper strips, and thereby explained a whole host of overly intense, hotly buttered saffron perfumes that I’ve wondered about….)

On another test, Ms. Minya let me smell a concentrated perfume oil that I thought was a spicy geranium. It turned out a type of rose oil. Well, geranium in essential oil concentration has an odor that is rose-like, so… I was close?? Still, I can’t get over the aldehydes and incense myrrh being completely unrecognizable. (Have I mentioned that none of this was particularly great for the ego?!)

Joking aside, I truly loved every minute of it, and it was pretty hard to drag me away from the lure of those bottles. Each one seemed to contain a whole new world of smells that was different from what I had previously experienced. I’ve had a few cheap oils that I’ve used to add to scented heaters, candles and the like, but nothing quite like the hardcore oils I smelled in her studio! If I lived in Paris, I would definitely avail myself of the opportunity to take one of the classes or workshops that Ms. Minya offers.

Actually, at the time of my visit, I didn’t know that Ms. Minya actually teaches this stuff to dolts like myself! The other day, while doing my research preparation for this post, I noticed a section of the Parfums Minya website listing the services she offers as a nose. For example:

courses range from beginner level to levels tailored to the talents of more advanced candidates. The most popular themes are as follows:

• Main Olfactory Families
• Exclusive Natural Raw Materials
• Basic Formulation / Accords
• Perfume Creation

All course can be easily adapted according to clients’ specific needs. [¶] Price: Starting at 220 EUR ( five session course )

She also offers a cheaper workshop that let’s you create your own perfumed product, be it a fragrance, a candle, or a body product:

For those clients who would like to experience the joyful moment of perfume creation without going through the advanced studies of raw materials and ingredient classification, we propose a facilitated perfume creation workshop where clients will be manipulating fine essential oils and fragrance accords to go home with their own crafts.

The most popular themes are as follows:

• Perfume Creation Workshop
• Scented Candle Creation
• Scented Personal Care Creation (lotions, bath balls, etc. )

Price: 90 EUR for individuals. Starting price for groups: 50 EUR / person.

Hedonist in its handmade wooden box that is "fashioned to capture the sleek look and feel of snakeskin leather."

Hedonist in its handmade wooden box that is “fashioned to capture the sleek look and feel of snakeskin leather.”

Despite some of the issues mentioned up above, things are hardly doom and gloom for Ms. Minya. Her debut perfume creation, Hedonist, sold out in just a few months, and there is already a long list of pre-orders. Apparently, that does not happen very often, especially for one’s first fragrance. In the meantime, Ms. Minya is being kept busy as a nose for clients, but also in travelling to give lectures on perfumery-related issue.

The future looks bright too, with two new perfumes being slated for release in 2014. While they are works in progress and the details were kept secret, they are apparently going to be in the style as Hedonist with the same sort of philosophy of using “the most noble raw materials and giving them an indulging edge.” When pressed for a little hint or two, Ms. Minya merely smiled and said that the perfumes are centered around “the two most expensive flower essences existing in perfumery.”  Aha! Iris! One of them has to be an iris scent! 

Photo: my own.

Photo: my own. It does her beauty absolutely no justice at all!

I have to thank Ms. Minya for many things. One is for being a lovely hostess, but, more importantly for really taking the time to explain the technical and basic details of what is involved in perfume creation. More importantly, however, I want to thank her for pulling aside the curtain and giving us all a peek into a world that is often shrouded in some mystery. You and I, we buy perfumes; few of us know anything about the process of actually making them. Things like the building block steps, the basic procedural tasks of how to dilute the pure oils and in what amounts — those are a foreign world for the vast majority of us. Ms. Minya took the time to explain it to me not only in her studio where she welcomed me with warmth, but also in subsequent follow-up emails where she patiently answered my bewildered questions on what must be the equivalent of the “A, B, C” for her.

Just as importantly, she was open and candid throughout. As she wrote to me, “I think some brands are totally mystifying perfumers on purpose for the public. They say the magic goes away if people find out about the small details of our work, I disagree, I think the magic starts whenever they are let to have a look behind the curtains!!!”

I really hope you saw some magic today. I certainly did when I was in her studio. And, it turns out that the Wizard of Oz actually and truly is a bit of a magician. A very beautiful, incredibly sweet magician with gorgeous eyes and the warmest smile.

Note: Photos of Ms. Minya’s studio are all my own. Other photo credits or sources are as noted within the individual captions.

FURTHER DETAILS:
For additional information on Ms. Minya or Hedonist, you can check out her website, Parfums Viktoria Minya. If you’re curious about Hedonist and how it smells, you can read my extremely positive review here. Hedonist retails for $195 or €130 for 45 ml of eau de parfum. Hedonist can be pre-ordered directly from Viktoria Minya with shipment going out in November. (I assume that means that the new stock will arrive then, and so pre-orders will not be necessary for anyone who reads this post much later in time.) In the U.S., however, the perfume is currently stocked and available for purchase at Luckyscent. Samples are available from Luckyscent or from Surrender to Chance, which sells vials starting at $6.49 for a 1/2 ml vial. I think Ms. Minya has always offered a much better deal on samples, in terms of a cost per size basis: it’s €5 for what is almost 2 ml, if memory serves me correctly and I think there is free shipping.

Perfume Review: Hedonist by Parfums Viktoria Minya

Source: UniqueLiving.com

Source: UniqueLiving.com

A stroll in Provence at the end of Spring. The scent of peaches and orange blossoms in the air. Fresh citruses and sparkling champagne. Heavily-laden mimosa trees adding colours of yellow, white and green. Bees buzzing everywhere, zipping from the fragrant flowers to honeycombs dripping with thick sweetness.

Viktoria Minya. Source: Fragrantica.

Viktoria Minya. Source: Viktoria Minya.

Those are the images evoked by Hedonist, a new perfume and the first in a line from the independent Paris house of Parfums Viktoria Minya. Ms. Minya spent many years studying the art of fragrance production in Grasse — the center for French (if not world) perfumery that is located in Provence — and then in working for various fragrance creation companies. Ms. Minya recently explained her philosophy and the goal behind Hedonist in an interview she gave to Fragrantica:

Impregnated of Grasse’s spirit, in the cradle of perfumery, I thought a perfume should be a celebration, it should be crowning your day, and it should be a moment of pure joy. I created Hedonist according to these values in my mind. I wanted it really to be a piece of beauty[.]

The spirit of Grasse is very strong in Hedonist and is probably why images of Provence are so vivid in my mind, recalling part of my childhood summers in the area. And the perfume is, indeed, beautiful, though I have to admit that hedonistic excess is not really the feel of it for me. Instead, it makes me feel extremely serene, soothed by the sweetness of honey and fruited flowers.

Hedonist in its handmade wooden box that is "fashioned to capture the sleek look and feel of snakeskin leather."

Hedonist in its handmade wooden box that is “fashioned to capture the sleek look and feel of snakeskin leather.” Source: Viktoria Minya website.

Nonetheless, Hedonist is described as follows:

A powerful and provocative perfume for a woman who dares to be true to her desires. Lush notes of jasmine and orange blossom absolute flirt with the dark intensity of rum and the world’s finest woods for a scent that is as captivating as it is unforgettable.

Source: Viktoria Minya.

Source: Viktoria Minya.

Hedonist is presented within a beautifully crafted bottle filled with hundreds of genuine bohemian crystals that sparkle brilliantly in the divine golden liquid and the bottle itself is enclosed within a handmade wooden box fashioned to capture the sleek look and feel of snakeskin leather.

The notes in the perfume, as compiled from both Fragrantica and an interview there with Viktoria Minya, are:

Top notes: Rum CO2, bergamot, peach;

Heart notes: Indian jasmine absolute, Tunisian orange flower absolute, osmanthus absolute, tobacco;

Base notes: Haitian vetyver, Virginia cedar oil, Indonesian Patchouli, and vanilla.

Fragrantica classifies Hedonist as a “woody chypre.” Frankly, that leaves me utterly baffled. The perfume is hardly a chypre and has no oakmoss. On my skin, it’s not particularly woody, either! Instead, it’s a lovely, very sweet fruit-floral with a very cozy feel, thanks to its honey and vanilla heart.

Bees on a honeycomb. Source: McDanielHoneyFarm.com

Bees on a honeycomb. Source: McDanielHoneyFarm.com

From the very first whiff, Hedonist is pure honey. A tidal wave of honey that is rich and warm with an element of almost bourbon-like richness beneath the tone. Yet, surprisingly, it’s not very thick, boozy or heavy; it doesn’t feel like the sort of boozy heaviness of Guerlain‘s Spiriteuse Double Vanille with its genuinely rum (and rum raisin) accord. Here, instead, it feels more like very dark honeycombs, infused with florals.

Source: RebootwithJoe.com

Source: RebootwithJoe.com

Seconds after that opening burst, there is lush peach, heady jasmine, citrus notes and some orange blossom. The jasmine is beautifully intertwined with the peach which is so ripe and sweet, it feels as though its juices are dribbling down your chin. The fruity note is also quietly underscored by the honeyed apricot aspect of osmanthus. There are no significant orange accords, however, and the orange blossom is very muted at this time.

In comparison, the citrus notes are much more prominent in the opening minutes. They are fresh and sparkling, seeming at times like bergamot, while, at other times, adding a very subtle, quiet nuance of lemony freshness. They are joined by just a hint of green vetiver, but it is bright and a bit more like lemon grass than the usual earthy, dark, rooty note. With the citrus notes, it creates the image of the green leaves surrounding a peach.

The interesting part of Hedonist’s opening is the distinctly soapy undertone to the perfume. While I suspect it stems from the orange blossoms, what’s unusual about it is that it really feels like soapy woods! White woods, soft and light, but soapy nonetheless. The conjunction of that soapy note with Hedonist’s fizzy brightness calls to mind aldehydes, but also champagne. In this case, both the drink and YSL‘s Champagne/Yvresse perfume which I adore and which is one of my long-standing “happy” perfumes. It is a beautiful, fruity-floral fragrance with peaches, nectarines, apricots, vetiver, and fizzy aldehydes.

Source: Philolog at Traumwerk.Stanford.edu

Source: Philolog at Traumwerk.Stanford.edu

That same sparkling feel exists here with Hedonist, and its bubbly pop leads me to think that either aldehydes or hedione are part of the perfume. For one thing, hedione has long been a key part of 20th century perfumery, especially for French perfumes. While it is often used in place of jasmine absolute, hedione is also sometimes used for its own characteristics in order to create a bright, green, lemon-nuanced fizzy note. Here, the jasmine note is not indolic, over-ripe, sour or plastic-y but, rather, very airy and almost green — the way it would be if hedione were used.

As for the aldehydes, they too are often added to create that shimmery brightness which is evident here. For the record, Ms. Minya says there are no aldehydes in the scent, but it sometimes feels like it. Not merely because of the occasionally soapy aspect to the perfume (though that vanishes after an hour), but also because of the sparkle and airiness. For all that Hedonist feels like a very heady perfume, it’s actually not opaque or thick at all. After that initial heaviness from the honey note (the Rum CO2) in the opening minutes, the perfume is actually quite light in feel. It’s definitely not oppressively weighted down or indolically narcotic.

mimosa-flower-200x300I wouldn’t be surprised if there are other notes in the perfume that are not included on the list. For some reason, it almost feels as though there is a subtle mimosa note to all the cheerful, happy, sweet yellowness of the scent. I think it’s because I keep seeing yellow before my eyes when I smell the perfume. (And, also, because mimosas were also a big part of my childhood in the South of France.) At the same time, Hedonist also seems to have a light musk note underlying everything. That accord becomes more evident as time passes and the perfume develops more into its core base: honey, peach and beeswax over a light foundation of musk with vanilla. 

After an hour, the notes change a little in nuance, but the perfume’s fundamental characteristic remains the same. The citrus notes have faded away completely to be replaced by more woody ones, along with the advent of orange blossom. The latter is subtle and well-blended into the jasmine. As time progresses, however, it becomes even less evident on my skin, though it occasionally pops up, here and there, in different degrees of strength. On my skin, Hedonist is not really an orange blossom scent, but a peach and honey one. As the other notes start to drop away, the honey becomes even more evident, strengthened by beeswax and the image of rich honeycombs. There is also the start of the vanilla undertone; it’s very soft and gauzy but, simultaneously, rich and creamy. When combined with the honey, beeswax and ripe, juicy peaches, the overall impression is of great sweetness.

The woodsy notes are very muted on my skin. There is a quiet element of cedar wood in the background, but it is just the barest shimmer. As for tobacco leaves, the first of my two tests of Hedonist showed the subtle hint of sweetened, dry tobacco leaves in the opening ten minutes of the scent, but it disappeared soon thereafter, never to reappear in any significant way. During my second test, however, both the tobacco leaves and the cedar wood were much more evident. They appeared at the end of the second hour, and I suspect it’s because I applied a far greater quantity of Hedonist than I did during my first test.

Another reason for the (small) difference might be because Hedoniste is a beautifully blended scent. Everything melds together in one very harmonious balance, making a few of the individual notes hard to detect in any significant way (with the exception of the honey). The background notes add to the richness of the scent in an indirect, subtle way, but they never visible morph the perfume into one thing or another. Instead, the core essence remains the same.

And that essence is a very classique scent. Hedonist has a very old-French aspect to it, though it’s not weighted down by some of the more traditional elements in French perfumery like oakmoss, powder, civet or patchouli. (Ms. Minya said in her interview with Fragrantica that patchouli was one of the notes in the perfume; I can’t smell it.) I think the airiness makes Hedoniste a very modern sort of classique fruity-floral. It is not trying to be revolutionary, unsettling or edgy; it simply wants to be beautiful and elegant.

Honeycomb. Source: Robert.Maro.net

Close-up of a honeycomb.
Source: Robert.Maro.net

Hedonist succeeds in that goal. Personally, however, I found it a much more soothing, serene, cozy scent than something sensuously hedonistic or sexy. It actually reminded me at times of Couvent de Minimes’ Honey and Shea body wash that I always turn to for its soothing, comforting qualities. Whatever Hedonist’s other elements or nuances, on my skin, it was first and foremost an uncomplicated, fruited honey, honeycomb and beeswax scent — and I loved it for that. And the perfume’s final drydown of honey, beeswax, vanilla and light musk was so pretty and cozy, I felt like curling up like a cat.

Hedonist is a strong perfume (though stronger if you apply more than the equivalent of 2 small sprays), but, as noted earlier, the feel is surprisingly light as a whole. The sillage starts as strong but, after the opening hour, became a touch above moderate in its projection on my skin. However, I was dabbing it on, so I suspect the perfume would be stronger if you applied Hedonist via an aerosolized spray bottle. Nonetheless, the first time I tested it, I was surprised by how quickly the fragrance became soft — which I think will be a definite bonus for those who prefer a less powerful scent. The perfume became very close to the skin only around the third hour, detectable only by bringing my nose to my arm. It hovered there as a soft, sweet veil for a number of hours. In terms of longevity, Hedonist lasted just about 9 hours on my perfume-consuming skin when I applied a lot, and approximately 7.5 when I applied less.

Hedonist’s richness is underscored by its utterly spectacular, luxurious presentation. Though I haven’t seen it in person, the photographs show a bottle that is filled with 500, genuine, Bohemian crystals which create a glittering, sparkling, jeweled effect that I find to be really stunning. I also think it happens to mimic the perfume’s very fizzy, champagne-like feel.

Source: Fragrantica.

Source: Viktoria Minya.

All in all, Hedonist is an extremely sweet, very feminine scent and would be perfect for those who love sweet fruity-florals. Even those who normally shy away from florals and prefer gourmand scents may be drawn to it, thanks to all that lovely honey and the quiet vanilla in the background. It is far too feminine, in my opinion, for the majority of men to pull of it off, but men apparently love it on their girlfriends or wives. In her interview with Fragrantica, Ms. Minya said women who tested Hedonist “all liked the perfume, but their boyfriends/husbands were actually going crazy for it and begging their wife/girlfriends to wear it.”

I wear perfume for myself, not for others or their reaction to it, and I would definitely wear Hedonist. It’s one of those easy, uncomplicated scents that makes me feel very cheerful, cozy and warm. It’s a very happy scent that seems to have bottled the bright sunshine of Provence. Sparkle, cheerfulness and sweetness — all with beautiful crystals. I’m a fan.

DISCLOSURE: Sample provided courtesy of Viktoria Minya. However, that did not impact this review. As always, I make it very clear at the outset that samples are no guarantee of a positive review and that my first obligation is honesty to my readers.

DETAILS:
Cost & Availability: Hedonist is an Eau de parfum that is available directly from Viktoria Minya where it costs €130 (or, approximately, $168 at the current exchange rate) for a 45 ml/1.5 fl oz. bottle filled with 500 Bohemian crystals. Viktoria Minya Parfums offers a flat-rate shipping fee of €9 (or approximately $11.50). There are no geographic restrictions and she will ship everywhere. Samples are also available for €5 (or, approximately, $6.50) for a 1.8 ml vial with free shipping. Samples are now available from US stores, but you still get a better deal (given the 1.8 ml size) if order from the company with the free shipping. In the U.S.: Hedonist is now available at Luckyscent which sells the bottle for $195 with 0.8 oz samples for $5.  Surrender to Chance also sells samples starting at $6.49 for a 1/2 ml vial.