Helg of The Perfume Shrine has had the excellent idea of herding a group of us holidaying bloggers for a look back at the Year of the Crunch… As you read this, I shall be in my native Montreal a-sniffing with my fellow PoLer and friend Tara!
The Violet Revival
Clearly, after the pale purple year of iris, we were due for an exploration of the astoundingly flexible, candied-powdery-woody facets of the so-retro-it’s-avant-garde violet.
And so violet was 2008’s goût du jour with star turns in Maurice Roucel’s candied Insolence Eau de Parfum (Guerlain) and weird Dans Tes Bras (Frédéric Malle), Antoine Maisondieu’s weirder Comme des Garçons + Stephen Jones, Christophe Laudamiel’s weirder still Geste (Humiecki & Graef), as well as in Emilie Coppermann's Kapsule Floriental (Karl Lagerfeld), Christine Nagel and Aurélien Guichard’s John Galliano (John Galliano), Creed’s Love in Black and Serge Lutens’ El Attarine. Speaking of which, Shiseido’s lawyers ought to get busy: Berdoues, purveyor of violet fragrances since 1936, have launched their own Bois de Violette, according to Osmoz.
Perfumistas go mainstream
Well, perhaps not quite. But the blogs, forums and Sniffapalooza events got quite a lot of mentions in the mainstream media in the US. In the UK, Luca Turin and Tania Sanchez’s Perfumes: The Guide benefitted from a savvy press campaign that got the book reviewed for the quality of its writing as much as for its contents, establishing perfume criticism as a legitimate literary endeavor. One hopes. Certainly, the fact that a genre that was pretty much nurtured online was deemed worthy of a paper publication (by which I mean that publishers actually invested money to produce it, as opposed to the rest of us bloggers investing our time, usually with no financial return) seems to hint to that growing legitimacy in the mainstream. But whether it really becomes a genre, with shelf-space in bookshops, depends on other perfumista authors getting their own publishing contracts.
Several signs seem to point towards a breakthrough in the discourse on perfumery, similar to the development of the discourse on gastronomy: perfumistas may well be tomorrow’s foodies.
Online perfume-loving communities have been international from the outset, but mostly English-speaking. I’m noticing more hits recently from various national-language forums and blogs, in Germany, Poland, Sweden, Brazil, Slovakia, Romania…
The year of the perfumer-as-star
Could 2008 mark a turning point in the recognition of perfumers? Following the example set by Frédéric Malle, more and more brands are naming perfumers, and pushing them in the spotlights when they promote their launches. The nomination of Thierry Wasser for Guerlain, Bertrand Duchaufour for L’Artisan Parfumeur and Jean-Michel Duriez for Rochas (while remaining at Jean Patou, also owned by Procter and Gamble) as in-house perfumers points to the need, for major brands, to create an identity and/or a stronger consistency in their releases.
Conversely, a handful of perfumers have been striking out on their own. Mark Buxton launched an eponymous line. Christophe Laudamiel authored the whole, offbeat Humiecki & Graef collection but also, more significantly, resigned from his position as senior perfumer at IFF to become co-CEO of a new olfactory design company called AEOSPHERE. Francis Kurkdjian has founded his own perfume house, which he conceives not as a new niche brand, but as the Guerlain of the 21st century.
It will be interesting to note whether this is a trend, and if more mavericks will rebel against the drudge of concocting the nth Angel-clone on a Febreze budget. It also poses the question of art direction: up to now, the degree of creative input of most perfumers is pretty much unknown, except to industry insiders. Even in a brand like Frédéric Malle’s, where total creative freedom is claimed to be the rule, one can suppose that Mr. Malle exercises some guidance, at least in some cases. It’ll be interesting to see if there is more transparency about this process as a result of the higher visibility of perfumers.
And finally, my top... Seven
1) Chanel N°5 Eau Première: N°5 fans turned up their nose, but this reworking of a legend is luminous and perfectly balanced.
2) Chanel Sycomore: A no-flash, exquisitely calibrated vetiver, both smoky and thirst-quenching.
3) Serge Lutens El Attarine: Drew “mehs”from many fans, but to me, this is a sum of Lutensiana: as though several earlier leitmotivs had been drawn together.
4) Guerlain Insolence Eau de Parfum: because smelling it in a duty-free shop got a big grin on my face: the EdP is undeniably Guerlain, Après L’ondée’s manga-reading great-great-great-grand-daughter.
5) Frédéric Malle Dans Tes Bras: I’m not even sure I like it, but for sheer I-need-to-smell-this-again oddness, Maurice Roucel’s composition has held me in its spell since August.
6) Humiecki & Graef: Christophe Laudamiel’s conceptual quintet pushes towards a redefinition of the art of perfumery, while managing to be hilariously witty.
For more views on the year that was, click on the links: