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.


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.

“…Cuz I’ll replace you!…with THE NIGHT!”


Dominique Ropion‘s oud monster The Night is not available for sale on the Frederic Malle website. I had to ask to smell it at the Barneys in Beverly Hills. The excellent sales associate (Malle reps are always the best) was more than happy to retrieve a shiny gold box from one of a dozen identical white drawers and spray a bit on a testing strip. She was even kind enough to send me home with a tiny sample. So far, I’ve eked out a few cautious wearings.

For some time now, niche and mainstream outfits alike have pumped out bottles with “oud” on the label (or aoud, or oudh, as the case may be), attempting to court both those with a fetish for exoticism and the people who came up with oud perfume in the first place. In almost all cases, it isn’t real oud, but no one seems to mind. Despite the heavy saturation of “ouds,” there is still room in the ultra-high-end of the market. With a purportedly unprecedented dose of 60% Cambodian oud, and a spit-take-inducing $800 price tag, The Night was clearly intended to be the final word in Western oud perfumery.

If you’ve spent any time with Ropion’s Portrait of a Lady, you’ll find the melody at the core of The Night familiar. However, instead of patchouli you get oud as no Western perfumer has previously dared. Montale’s Aoud Cuir d’Arabie, my previous landmark for supremely animalic oud, came to mind when I first put the smelling strip to my nose. But on skin, the story changes. While Aoud Cuir certainly smells animalic, The Night smells like an actual animal. Every terrible thing to which you’ve heard oud compared (bad cheese, dirty band-aids, good cheese) are all beautifully apt, but instead of recoiling I leaned in. The initial blast is still unlike anything I’ve ever smelled, producing a physical sensation of glee. Nothing was ever this dangerous. Have you ever been to a My Bloody Valentine concert? It was kind of like that.

For Ropion and Malle it must have been a thrilling exercise, and the grand result is stunning and virtuosic. The combined perfectionism of Malle and Ropion has produced an exquisitely executed take on the classical oud and rose combo, a seamless cloak of oud and deep resins with sparkling red jewels. The music of the composition as it moves from the teeming salvo of the opening to the quiet, but still dangerous dry down is superbly accomplished. But at the end of the day, do we really care about how “good” something is? Don’t we really just want something to move us? On that score, I may still prefer Montale’s Black Aoud, certainly not cheap, but vastly more affordable than The Night. Black Aoud strikes a perfect balance between synthetic and natural, between good taste and bad. While The Night is a perfume of unquestionable sophistication and sensuality, Black Aoud is a perfume for adventure.

If you’ve just bought your bottle of The Night, I applaud you. If you balk at both the price and the uncompromising oudiness, fear not. There are many other fantastic options out there. My two favorites are Montale’s Black Aoud and Elie Saab Essence No. 4 Oud, the first being relatively easy to find and the latter devilishly tricky. And if you like the smell of The Night but can’t or won’t go full oud, opt instead for Malle’s Portrait of a Lady, which is apparently just as popular with men as with women.