There was no shortage of excitement in 2012. Madonna and Gaga clashed in a celebrity scent battle. The luxury goods market continued to grow. As expected, the mainstream branch of the fragrance industry played it safe, as far as the actual smell of its products was concerned. But the stormy economic climate seemed to have a stultifying effect on the niche world too: most of its creations shied away from boldness and seemed intent on occupying an uninspiring middle ground.
Nevertheless, there were plenty of wonderful compositions to smell, so in the spirit of maintaining a celebratory mood, here’s my list of the best perfumes of 2012 (compiled from the scents which I happened to smell for the first time over the course of the last year):
The Afternoon Of A Faun : Ralf Schwieger (Etat Libre D’Orange)
I was completely knocked out by this extraordinary olfactory tableau. Taking its inspiration from the infamous 20th century ballet, and using the divine trinity of bergamot-labdanum-oakmoss as its central axis, Faun harks back to a bygone era whilst remaining modern and relevant throughout its gorgeous development. If only wearing it could make us all as graceful as Nijinksy.
L’Ambre Des Merveilles : Jean-Claude Ellena (Hermès)
By linking the original Eau Des Merveilles’ saline wood construction to an amber as lush and comforting as a velvet cushion, Ellena demonstrated not only that his technical abilities are second to none, but also that he isn’t always going to stick to the spare, translucent style for which he’s sometimes criticised.
Anima Dulcis : Rodrigo Flores-Roux & Yann Vasnier (Arquiste)
The stand-out creation from the most praiseworthy new brand of recent months.Yes, it’s a gourmand, but don’t let that dissuade you from trying it if you’re not keen on the genre. With its intoxicating blend of cocoa, patchouli, cinnamon, incense and vanilla, it demonstrates that, sometimes, the most sensuous forms of ecstasy are to be found in the unlikely setting of an ancient convent.
L’Heure Vertueuse : Mathilde Laurent (Cartier)
When I smelt this for the first time, I experienced one of the few, jaw-dropping olfactory shocks of the year. Pushing the term ‘green’ to new heights of photorealism,Vertueuse explores the territory Laurent delved into with Herba Fresca, adds a few touches of Caron’s Pour Un Homme and serves up the lot with a panache which makes it one of the bravest compositions of 2012.
Interlude Man : Pierre Negrin (Amouage)
What can I say? When I sprayed this stuff on myself, my wife wanted to chew off my arm, my mother-in-law wouldn’t let go of my wrist and my father-in-law demanded to know where he could buy a bottle for himself. A dangerously incendiary creation – complete with tar, incense and glowing embers – Interlude Man provides more evidence, if more were needed, that hiring Christopher Chong as their Creative Director was one of the smartest moves Amouage ever made.
Loretta : Andy Tauer (Tableau De Parfums)
Tauer didn’t add any scents to his signature collection in 2012, but he did give his Tableau De Parfums range what must be one of the year’s most intimidating beauties. A tuberose with glinting claws and an unreadable gaze, it pulls you into its embrace, whispers wickedness into your ears and then casts you aside when it no longer has any use for you.
Mito : Vero Kern (Vero Profumo)
If only all other perfumers were as patient as Vero Kern. Whilst nearly everyone around her releases a new scent every six months, she appears content to take her time and work at a pace dictated not by market trends, but by the mysterious concoctions brewing in her bottles. As expected, Mito was worth the wait. A detailed, thoughtful representation of an Italian garden – with a narrative arc that moves from day to night – it’s a classic ‘twilight perfume’, suspended somewhere in the haunted regions between myth and reality.
Noir : Olivier Gillotin (Tom Ford)
It would be too easy (and unfair) to dismiss this as nothing more than a combination of Guerlain’s Habit Rouge and Heritage. There’s no doubt that it pays homage to both those scents, but it also possesses a distinct personality of its own, as seen in its pepper note and its elegant restraint. Classy, elegant and tinged with precisely the right amount of sensual femininity, it is easily the best mainstream masculine of 2012.
Oud : Francis Kurkdjian (Maison Francis Kurkdjian)
In a year which saw a depressing dilution of what oud could and should be, Francis Kurkdjian rescued the material’s olfactory profile from Cliché Country and gave us this trans-national wonder. He painted his agar wood a particularly animalic shade of brown, stained it white with a touch of aldehydic notes and then made the whole translucent with an injection of well-scrubbed, CK One musks. In short, he proved that it is still worth mining the oud seam, as long as you make an effort to stray from the familiar.
Oud Ispahan : François Demachy (Christian Dior)
After the monumental Leather Oud, Demachy decided the Collection Privée needed a more feminine take on Arabia’s trademark ingredient. So he took a fresh, watery rose note, placed it over an amber base and combined it with his own pungent olfactory representation of oud. Granted, the latter owes its power to cypriol rather than agar wood, but that’s a minor quibble when you’re faced with a creation of such knee-weakening seductiveness.
Séville À L’Aube : Bertrand Duchaufour (L’Artisan Parfumeur)
Last year’s sunniest release is also one of its most complex. It’s a testament to Duchaufour’s unwavering skill that he can put together a scent which conveys the simple, unfettered joy of a cologne-like orange blossom whilst simultaneously offering the attentive wearer a wealth of detail and nuance. Smell it and feel the optimism of the dawn work its way into your soul.
Songe D’Un Bois D’Été : Thierry Wasser (Guerlain)
Wasser says he had great fun making Guerlain’s ‘desert’ trio and his enjoyment certainly comes through in Songe, a lecherous and yet oh-so-civilised mix of Dior’s Leather Oud, L’Artisan’s Al Oudh and Lutens’ Muscs Koublaï Khän. His other releases for the house tend to veer towards the conservative, but here he shows that there are quite a few beasts growling beneath his immaculately groomed exterior.