The Old Year


This will not be a typical end of year list*. Not only did I smell so few of the 2000 perfumes (yikers, right?) released this year, but after the corker of a year we’ve all had, getting personal seems to be the only appropriate way to go. Read on for an unabashedly sentimental accounting of those perfumes that buoyed my spirits when the year was darkest.

Amouage

Barely a day goes by that I don’t thank the Lord for Christopher Chong and Amouage. Nobody, and I do mean nobody, can touch their particular brand of towering mega-scents. I may not have rushed out to buy Myths Woman (let alone Myths Man, Bracken Man, or Lilac Love), but Nathalie Lorson‘s green fairy is nothing if not a proper meal. And what a pleasure it was to join her for the twists and turns.

Ultimately Opus X got me to shell out that Amouage-money. (Not the steepest price tag in the game anymore, but a decent yardstick for costliness.) I love weird and I love rose and when the two come together with Annick Menardo on the bill and an Amouage budget, well, can you really blame me? It’s loud, raucous and unmannered. But it’s also warm and open-hearted. The beautifully modulated rosy lament is rousing, never overwhelming. An epic with a light touch.

Galop d’Hermes

Christine Nagel‘s opening salvo for Hermes may have made all the year-end lists I read. And to think, some people were worried about how she’d handle the pressure. I confess that most of Jean-Claude Ellena‘s work for Hermes didn’t land for me. (The obvious exception being Osmanthe Yunnan: as close to perfect as one could hope for.) Galop d’Hermes made me think, “Jean-Claude, who?”

Nagel’s leather and rose accord in Galop d’Hermes is remarkable enough to make you root for the big houses again. Complex though it is, it will always remind me of the smell of grooming a horse after a ride. Nagel’s composition is built from some of the loveliest stuff around, but the shape and structure are undeniable. Y’all, this is some exquisitely sweaty horse butt.

Starck Paris

No great fan of Phillipe Starck and his steely brand of bombast, I eyed the Starck Parfums display at my local Neimans with understandable skepticism. And then, in a second, my grumpiness evaporated. All three of those absurdly named perfumes are worthy of serious attention.

Sure, Dominique Ropion flexes his muscles with the genteel musk of Peau de Soie. And Daphné Bugey puts a very clever spin on a crowd-pleasing woody amber. But it’s Annick Menardo who really shines with her gently futuristic meditation on growth and decay. Peau d’Ailleurs is classic Menardo, as succinct and insistent as Patchouli 24, but tender and dreamy. Let her take you by the hand.

Mathilde Laurent

Full disclosure, I have a crush on Mathilde Laurent: a perfectly impossibly schoolboy crush. It’s not just her perfumes, or that fantastic smile, it’s that she seems genuinely warm, silly, and unpretentious. She showed up to an interview in metallic cowboy boots.

Manning the helm at Cartier, she has her name on no fewer than eight releases this year alone. I remember smelling L’Envol for the first time, trying to reign in my optimism. “I’ll be damned,” I thought, my eyes widening, “that bastard did it.” Yes, it smells great. And Laurent managed to pull off an instantly winsome masculine without any of the grating, chest-thumping tropes. But this stuff does something barely any masculines ever have done: offer shimmering, radiant fun. Unlike even some of the best perfumes for men, L’Envol doesn’t convey gravitas or a life well-lived. It’s not merely trying to impress. 

But strap yourself in. Because that lovely little gem isn’t even the best thing she did this year. This is the year that Mathilde Laurent also gave us L’Heure Perdue, a work of supreme accomplishment, intelligence, and beauty. But as much fun as it is to dissect, L’Heure Perdue is simply exceptional perfumery, as miraculous as this stuff gets.


*On a side but important note, it heartens me greatly to find so many woman leading mainstream perfume houses. In an industry where even Frederic Malle cosigns the exclusion of women, the glass ceiling is a low as ever. Wonderful then, to see these women deservedly appointed to notable positions as they effortlessly kick out the best stuff of the year. We’ve got a long way to go, but lots to be grateful for. Cheers, ladies.
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Review: Amouage Opus X

Divine Lady

First, this stuff is great. It may even be as good as one of my all time favorite roses Lyric Woman. It may even be better. Opus X is a rose turned inside out, with the soft skin touching you and the raw flesh exposed. It is brutal, lovely, and uncompromising.

Annick Menardo is listed as co-composer, along with Pierre Negrin. Negrin, incidentally, seems to be a favorite of Amouage’s Creative Director Christopher Chong. He has worked on a number of Amouage scents, and appears as co-composer on at least four in the Library Collection alone (of which Opus X is the tenth release). Perhaps his hand gives the extra experimental Library Collection its continuity, despite occasional unevenness. But while Opus X is undoubtedly an Amouage joint, the central rose accord has Menardo’s hands all over it.

Like Lyric Woman, Opus X harbors a nearly rotten fruit effect, which at first feels uncomfortable but then shines like the ray of light coming out of He-Man’s sword. So, while Lyric woman is intimate, Opus X is a war cry. Like so many of Menardo’s other great perfumes (including the freshly-reviewed Peau d’Ailleurs for Starck Parfums), Opus X is at once familiar and alien. It is deceptively familiar.

Most rose perfumes are soft and luxurious. Many are brazen. Some are wicked. Unlike any other rose I know, Opus X is at once searing and rich, sometimes disconcertingly so. The tension between the exceedingly complex rose core and the dense bed of–among other things–oud, never quite resolves itself. It certainly belongs among Christopher Chong’s “couture” Library Collection, but unlike most of those releases, it feels every inch the proper perfume. Hard to pull off, certainly, but egad, why wouldn’t you try?

With each passing year, Amouage seems more special and more unique. I may not like all their releases, but they are never a waste of time. If even the best of mass market perfumery is the fragrance equivalent of a Kristen Stewart performance, Amouage never fail to turn in a fully-fleshed Bette Davis. And at their best, an immortal Divine.


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Review: Jubilation XXV by Amouage

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How rare it is to find a perfume with an accurate name. Certainly, Amouage are a company that trade in opulence. But unlike their price-tier brethren (e.g. Parfums MDCIFrederic MalleSerge Luten‘s “cloche” series), you won’t find any stuffy elitism here. Just the loudest, most lavish party imaginable. Indeed, Jubilation XXVmakes me think of Chanel No. 5, both in richness and overall effect. Both juices conjure up a bright golden form. But while No. 5 is smooth and sculptural, Jubilation is explosive and, let’s just say it, jubilant. It’s like a lava eruption that you want to hug. Or a mosh pit (remember those??) full of golden muppets.

The opening doesn’t pop like a gunshot. Instead it loosens up and unfurls like a great street band, radiating pure energy before you even know what hit you. And Jubilation’s composer Bertrand Duchaufour (the closest thing the smell world has to a rock star) knows how to unobtrusively fill a room. It’s not a swooner, but it is a shot in the arm.

The stylized smell of what I think is supposed to be ambergris–I’ve never smelled the real stuff–comes in like a sea breeze, albeit a sea breeze carrying some notable funk. Still, it’s light and sexy. I might even say it’s suggestive more than it’s outright animalic. I for one, begin to think naughty thoughts once the dry down hits. But that might just be me.

Jubilation is generally considered an “oriental fougère” (i.e. a fougère first and an oriental second). And while it packs the requisite goods to satisfy fans of both genres, I am most drawn to the fougère components. Those of us who want the heft and expansiveness of fougères without the fuddy-duddy-dad trappings common to things like Rive Gauche Pour Homme will love Jubilation. It’s certainly not made with the young man in mind, but it’s far from reserved and straight-laced. In fact, combining fougère pleasures with the hot lashings of resins and spices begins to seem quite daring.

Still, this is a perfume built for pleasure, not for dissection. Like many of Amouage’s other offerings, it’s built to last. I can even smell it 24 on, well after a hot shower and a solid night’s sleep. Spray it on and party hard.


*I’m working with a older bottle here, which I purchased. Not sure about the actual vintage.
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