Now that the final hours of 2016 have snuck away, we are left with a champagne glass in our hands reminiscing what a crazy year it was.
2016 saw the release of some amazing fragrances and some spectacular duds. In this review of 2016, I try to capture the most memorable perfume moments of the year. It is the moments that stood out the most for me and the ones that have garnered the most buzz according to my unofficial polling.
You think I've missed something important? No surprise here.
The world of fragrance is vast and what is deemed memorable is so subjective, that it is no wonder if something slipped through the cracks.
Tell me in the comments what your most memorable perfume moments are. Sharing our fragrance experiences is what ScentBound is about.
Now, let's get straight into it.
Burberry's Questionable Comeback
One of the stories that caught my attention early in 2016 was the big splash release of Mr. Burberry.
Thought of as the counterpart of the feminine My Burberry (released in 2014), this fragrance was also touted as the brand's comeback. The idea behind Mr. Burberry was to reclaim its lost spot as a leader on the men's cologne market.
(I doubt Burberry was ever a leader in men's fragrances but that's just me.)
As people of age and wisdom say, it's one thing to plan for greatness and another to achieve it.
Despite recruiting a superstar perfumer, Burberry's release was a total dud in the fragrance community. Many reviewers described it as a Dior Sauvage copy and wildly unoriginal. When the most flattering term used to describe your fragrance is "pleasant", you know you have a problem.
The opinion of fragrance bloggers, however, is not a good predictor of sales to the general public. (Read here why.)
Ultimately, the two groups are looking for different things. Yet, Mr. Burberry's performance must not have been stellar. By the end of 2016, the cologne had hit the discounters in a major way. Not exactly a story of a winner.
So, how do you fix this mess? Increase your perfume budget and give Mr. Kurkdjian more creative freedom. We all have seen the masterpieces he can create when his hands are untied.
Parfums Dusita - A Perfume Star was Born
On the flipside, 2016 also saw the spectacular birth and rise of Parfums Dusita. The passion and talent of the perfumer and creative director, Pissara Umavijani, brought us three epic fragrances in three very different genres: woods, fougere and florals.
It is hands-down the most authentic oud fragrance I've smelled so far. Dense cheesy oud from Thailand dances with a magnificent rose and creamy sandalwood.
It is what all modern fougeres should smell like. Sorry, Simon Baker, you should be wearing this one for a true fougere experience.
This fragrance is an intoxicating floral composition. Gardenia, tuberose and jasmine join forces and elevate your olfactory experience into the stratosphere. White florals are not my thing but this one makes an exception. It's that good.
"she has certainly managed to snare a new, memorably poetic essence and bottle it. Really fine work."
I agree wholeheartedly. The quality and originality of Pissara's perfumes is a breath of fresh air in an industry ruled by conformity and low budgets.
Tom Ford and His New Take on Leather
Tom Ford has such a presence in the fragrance industry that just by virtue of releasing something, he gets massive attention. Of course, if you are familiar with Tom Ford and his work, you know he will never just release something.
In 2016, the brand put out several fragrances but the one that got the forums buzzing was Ombre Leather 16.
The idea behind it was recreate the smell of the backstage of Tom Ford's Fall/Winter 2016 collection. The name of the fragrance is a code phrase for exactly that. It refers to the faded leather (ombre leather), which dominated his 2016 collection and 16 is a reference to the year.
The cryptic name, however, wasn't what got the fragrance so much attention. It was the fact that this was the second notable leather release from the brand after the legendary Tuscan Leather. The fact that Ombre Leather 16 is a leather fragrance and that it carries the name Tom Ford naturally lent itself to endless comparisons with the original.
So, how does Ombre Leather 16 compare to Tuscan Leather? In my view, it's a weak version of it. If you like Tuscan Leather but never had the balls to wear it, this is a good option.
If you are curious to know more about Ombre Leather 16 vs. Tuscan Leather, check out Ombre Leather 16 by Tom Ford: A Pale Version of Tuscan Leather?
Regardless of what I think, I Ombre Leather 16 is bound to win some awards next year. Despite being toned down, it is just the type of fragrance destined for popularity (not the same as creativity and quality).
Penhaligon's Portraits Collection - Taking Odd to Another Level
(not in a good way)
In my mind, Penhaligon's has always been the quintessential British fragrance house favoured by dandies. Many of their classics are outstanding creations that anyone exploring the art of perfumery must try.
Penhaligon's latest installment, however, leaves me rather puzzled. On one hand, the Portraits collection is exactly what you would expect from Penhaligon's. It's a humorous jab at the British aristocracy through the art of perfume.
On the other hand, the Portraits fragrances simply don't make any sense. Let me step back and explain by means of examples.
The idea behind Portraits is to pay tribute to the British spirit by recreating a fictional story about an aristocratic family.
Each fragrance represents a character in this story and is also associated with an animal. The cap of each bottle is in the shape of an animal head.
This is how Penhaligon's describes the characters portrayed by each fragrance:
"Lord George is a wealthy and respected man, the archetypal patriarch. He seems to embody the noblest values of the aristocracy: virtue, respect, loyalty and faithfulness. His fragrance reflects his essence; seemingly traditional, yet with hidden secrets. "The flesh is weak."
"A darling of London Society, and one of the most influential ladies in Britain. Her aloof beauty, mysterious past and blazing passions are scrutinised by all from shop-girls to Royalty. She would do anything to climb the social ladder still further. Her latest scheme is to poison her husband, Lord George, inheriting his wealth and burying his secrets for ever! Her fragrance reflects her very essence: a green floral narcotic. - Charmingly dangerous."
"Conforming to the expectations of his class, Duke Nelson married the most coveted girl in London: the Duchess Rose. Yet the Duke is eccentric and unusual, his whimsical airs set society tongues wagging. Rumours abound that his marriage is yet to be consummated! His perfume is as ambivalent as he is: a floral yet masculine woody fragrance. - Fancy that"
"Daughter of Lady Blanche and Lord George, Rose married a Duke to escape the stifling rigidity of her family and to become the Coveted Duchess Rose. At first, naively romantic, she has now become disillusioned and frustrated in an unsatisfactory marriage. Always looking for fun and frivolity (and perhaps love affairs), her fragrance is a not so innocent fresh rose. - Release me"
At first glance, Penhaligon's idea of creating a story around its collection is cool. If done right, it could be an enthralling experience. The problem is that it's not done right.
First off, none of the fragrances match the personalities they depict. The Tragedy of Lord George, for example, is meant to depict a traditional patriarch. The fragrance itself doesn't portray these qualities. It is pleasant enough but doesn't call evoke a sense of traditionalism. The most frustrating thing about it is that Penhaligon's knows how to make traditional fragrances.
Second, the fragrances and the characters they represent are a subtle play on stereotypes. The story about Much Ado about the Duke suggests that he is gay.
Stereotypically, the the fragrance features florals - traditionally used feminine fragrances. Nothing here appears overtly offensive but it does raises one's brow.
Third, the names of the fragrances have little to do with the stories. For example, Lady Blanche is a typical gold digger who wants to kill her husband (Lord George). Why the perfume itself is called The Revenge of Lady Blanche is not clear. There is no allusion as to why and for what Lady Blanche may seek a revenge.
Similarly, Duchess Rose is depicted as a floozy, to use an octogenarian term. Being coveted and promiscuous by their nature are two opposite traits. How and by who Rose is coveted is not clear.
The biggest problem about the Portraits is the not the logic or the back story. Its tragedy is that they are unremarkable fragrances.
Francis Kurkdjian's Dynamic Duo
Francis Kurkdjian, however, took a different approach to releasing a duo of scents. Petit Matin and Grand Soir are fragrances made to be worn in different parts of the day.
Petit Matin embodies "the freshness of an early morning" and Grand Soir celebrates "the radiance of a grand evening". What ties both fragrances together is the city of Paris. They both epitomize how one experiences the city at a different time (day and night).
If you want to keep things simple and smell great, Petit Matin and Grand Soir are the way to go.
Boy by Chanel - Celebrating the Unisex Scent
Commemorating Chanel's soulmate Arthur "Boy" Capel, the fragrance a fresh aromatic built around lavender, geranium and a musky base.
I got a chance to smell Boy only briefly and it left with an impression of a decent-enough scent. Nothing grabbed me and put me in a state of uncontrolled desire but at the same time I wasn't turned off either. I'll stop with my commentary on the scent here since I haven't fully worn it.
Louis Vuitton Finally Succumbs to the Fragrance Appeal
Until recently Louis Vuitton was the only luxury designer brand without a line of fragrances. From Gucci to Jean Franco Ferre virtually all designers have been heavily involved in the perfume business for decades. The public secret in the industry is that the fragrance lines are the cash cows of any fashion business.
One reason why Louis Vuitton didn't release a fragrance line until 2016 is because it didn't have to. LVMH (the brand's parent company) has a full roster of companies with the most renowned names on the market. The most notable include Guerlain, Dior, Givenchy and Kenzo. LVMH also owns Sephora - one of the largest make-up and fragrance retailers.
Therefore, from a business perspective LVMH and by extension Louis Vuitton has been neck-deep into the fragrance industry.
Digging a little deeper reveals that the company did have a line of fragrances. According to Harper's Bazaar the company has been producing fragrances since the 1920s and until the 1940s. The names of those perfumes were Je, Tu, Il (I, You, He) and Eau de Voyage. Why the company discontinued their fragrance production is not clear.
Vuitton's return to the fragrance game didn't happen overnight. According to the company's website, in 2012 Louis Vuitton hired Jacques Cavallier as an in-house perfumer.
Cavallier spent the last four years searching for rare ingredients and crafting the seven scents that make up the collection today.
Cavallier designed all seven perfumes to lean feminine, even though some can easily pass as unisex.
The current line up includes:
Giving credit to such comparisons, I'd expect Les Parfums to be versatile, high quality and non-challenging. After all, this is Louis Vuitton - the brand that democratized luxury.
One of the fragrances that stood out for me in 2016 was Imaginary Authors' Slow Explosions. It's a weird scent built around saffron. It is like nothing else I have smelled before and expanded my horizons in the fragrance world.
The perfume itself couldn't have been produced by anyone else but Imaginary Authors' Josh Meyer. If you know his style of perfumery, you will appreciate Slow Explosions. You may not like it but you must try it.
Creed and the Viking Conspiracy Theory
If there is one thing Creed does well (besides cologne, that is) it is building up intense expectation about its new releases. In the latter half of 2016 "rumours" appeared that Creed might be launching a new fragrance called Viking. ScentBound documented the development of this speculation frenzy and you can read it here: Viking Creed a New Fragrance Release for 2017.
Just like any conspiracy theory, this one also arose from lack of complete information and the presence of conflicting messages.
Others reported that they spoke with Olivier Creed who told them the new release is coming out in 2017. Yet, someone else, however, said the customer service at Creed and none of the stores were aware of a new release.
It might have been a simple case of miscommunication. Nevertheless, the result was close to furor in the fragrance community. For the record, no one really knows but it's likely that there will be some release in the first half of 2017.
Uomo by Salvatore Ferragamo
What makes Uomo by Salvatore Ferragamo different than other men's releases by the company is that it is not a citrus-aquatic.
In the last three years, the designer company has been producing only watery citrus scents from its line Acqua Essenziale. Many of them were quite good but the whole theme of light and fresh was getting tired.
This is why, the change Ferragamo made in 2016 was refreshing.
The company recruited Ben Barnes as the face of the promotional campaign and he did an amazing job portraying the idea of what the dolce vita is. Fun, casual and elegant, never taking yourself too seriously - this is what Uomo is about.
On the to the fragrance itself - it follows the current trend of gourmand fragrances. I enjoy the opening and the sweetly fresh tiramisu accord. After the first twenty minutes, however, the whole composition goes too sweet on me.
If you look at Uomo outside of the context of the current men's cologne offerings, it's a decent fragrance just a notch above the average.
On the background of other popular releases that could be best described by the colour grey, Uomo sparkles.
On a more personal level, I truly enjoy the happy, cheerful ad campaign. I was seriously getting tired of looking at the constipated faces of moody actors posing half-naked on various rooftops against grey skies.
The Fragrance Foundation Awards 2016
The Fragrance Foundation Awards are as a commercial affair as it can possibly get. You rarely see a truly niche or indie fragrances represented there.
Part of the reason is that the nominations are judged based on sales, marketing strategy, packaging and advertising. These are all things small niche and indie companies just don't do much of. Many of them don't have the budgets to compete with the corporate behemoths or they wisely decide to spend their money on stuff that matters - the juice that is.
Interestingly enough, the smell and composition of the fragrance itself doesn't get judged. This explains how some perfumes made it on the winners list.
Fragrance of the Year
Tom Ford Noir Pour Femme - Tom Ford Beauty
Tom Ford Venetian Bergamot - Tom Ford Beauty
Marc Jacobs Decadence - Coty, Inc.
Dior Sauvage - Parfums Christian Dior
Victoria's Secret Forever Sexy - Victoria's Secret
Nautica Life Energy - Coty, Inc.
Voulez-vous Coucher Avec Moi - Kilian
Perfume Extraordinaire of the Year
Note: Even though the Fragrance Foundation's website doesn't say so, it appears these awards are based only on data from the US market. Currently, the site doesn't show any awards for other regions of the world.
The Art and Olfaction Awards
An alternative to the Fragrance Foundation Awards are The Art and Olfaction Awards. Their purpose is to raise awareness and interest for independent and artisans perfume brands. As things stand today, this is the place where true innovation and fragrance creativity is celebrated.
The Art and Olfaction Awards are administered by the LA-based Institute for Art and Olfaction. The Institute gives two award in two categories: Artisan and Independent. There is a fifth award (Sadakichi Award) given to one experimental olfactory project.
Here are the winners in 2016:
The fragrance that truly stood out for me was Bat by Zoologist Perfumes. Under the direction of Victor Wong, Ellen Covey created a scent depicting the habitat of a bat in an interesting and, at the same time, very wearable way.
Mugler Switching to Last Name Basis
The Fashion Law explains that the move is an effort to consolidate its clothing and fragrance marketing and image.
The new look is more streamlined and clean. As part of the change, the company drops the first name of the designer and its fragrances will now carry the brand name Mugler instead of Thierry Mugler.
Fragrance Trends for 2016
Isabelle Farrande, Director of Cinquieme Sens has summarized the key fragrance trends of 2016. Her analysis was published in Premium Beauty News and I've reproduced the data in the infographics below:
The Best Fragrance Reads of 2016
If your busy schedule left with no time to read, don't worry. Here's a list of the best writing about perfume in 2016.
This article by the Economist explores the rise and decline of the traditional fragrance making in India. Once famous for its oils and attars, India plays a marginal role in the fragrance industry today. Things are about to change. Find out how young entrepreneurs are trying to revive an ancient industry.
When two people smell the same thing, they can have remarkably different reactions, depending on their cultural background. Researchers have found that even when two cultures share the same language and many traditions, their reactions to the same smells can be different.
Claire Vukcevic (Take One Thing Off) delves deep into the essence of ambergris. She dispels long-standing myths of what ambergris is, what it isn't and it could be. Claire fun and witty style of writing makes this publication for Basenotes a pleasure to read.
In this short article for Scientific American, Mark Anderson explores the science behind smell and why we pick out some smells more than others.
Rachel Syme with the New York Times reports on the shift in recent years from clean citrus fragrances, to dirty animalic scents. In the process, she retells the story of Victor Wong and how he started his indie perfume house Zoologist.
Why are niche fragrances becoming more and more popular? In the last several years the market has seen unprecedented growth of niche perfumery. Christopher Stocks chats with the men and women behind some of the best known niche brands to find the answer.
Christopher Stocks takes us on a tour on the floor of Pitti Fragranze that took place in September 2016. He picks out 11 fragrances that grabbed his attentions and tells us what he likes about them.
This article in the New York Times explores the changing landscape in the fragrance industry and how it impacts duty-free perfume sales.
If you follow closely the fragrance industry, you must have heard that celebrity scents are on the decline and that niche perfumery is on the rise. The Business of Fashion explores what causes this shift in market demand.
Arabelle Sicardi explores the fragrant history of Florence and the iconic Santa Maria Novella.
Our sense of smell is notoriously imprecise. It's hard for us to pick out various odours and even harder to name them. In her article for Nautilus Courtney Humphries explains how our evolution as human species has primed us to detect smells that spell danger and not pretty ones.
What is haute parfumerie? In this editorial for the Independent Alexander Fury explains how niche perfumery bridges the gap between the designer scents and the custom-made fragrances reserved for the super rich.
The four-time Jasmine Award winner, Persolaise, has an in-depth conversation with Francis Kurkdjian – one of the most famed perfumers of modern times. Published in two parts, Kurkdjian and Persolaise have an honest talk about the fragrance industry, perfumery and inspiration.
You can read part one and part two of the interview here:
Perfume is such an easy subject to lie about ~ an interview with Francis Kurkdjian, part 1
"Seventeen Families" - An Exclusive Interview With Francis Kurkdjian [part 2]
Do perfumes portray us of who we want to be? This is the question the fashion blogger, Marloes Hagenaars asks and answers in her article for Basenotes. It’s a short read but an impactful one that will leave you with many questions to ask yourself.