Sunday, December 28, 2008

A Year Of Perfume: 2008 Retrospective

'Tis the season: Looking back, making lists and trying to summarize the previous twelve months in a way that makes sense. A group of us, bloggers with a serious thing for perfume, is offering a 2008 retrospective of the fragrance world. Each one of us is writing from a different point of view and location (some are based in Europe), and there's no common theme. I chose to look at events and trends that shaped and influenced us as consumers.

1. Launched in 2007, Tom Ford's Private Blend line was met with quite a bit of groans and growls from many perfume lovers. The twelve scents released at the same time made many doubt the amount of care and thought that went into creating them and accused Ford of trying to become an instant Lutens. Coupled with nose fatigue (who has the attention span for trying 12 new scents from one house at one sitting?), a general annoyance at the limited distribution and Ford's own controversial reputation all caused many to not even try. This year, however, found people giving the scents a chance and finding out they really really like them.

Say what you may about Tom Ford and the soft porn campaign he ran for his (tame, office-friendly) mainstream Tom Ford For Men fragrance. The Private Blend is well-made, interesting and actually worth the hype. 2008 has found the scents (if not the man) getting enough love that the latest release, Champaca Absolute, had people ordering blind. Quite a change from last year.

2. After years of dreaming, pining, hoarding the few precious drops left and paying over $400 on eBay for bottles that may or may not have relatively fresh juice in them, fans of Donna Karan's long-discontinued Chaos finally got their wish with the scent's re-release as a Bergdorf Goodman exclusive. Someone at Lauder (the company that holds the license for the Karan beauty line) has definitely been paying attention, as they created a full line of other discontinued items: Black Cashmere, DK For Men and the Essentials, all in the new black bottles.

As expected with such a project, the controversy hit two seconds after the first bottles were sprayed: Was the scent reformulated? Did they ruin it? Weakened it? No one can tell for sure, as those who still have some of the old juice admit, their bottles have aged (very well, in many cases, even if most of the top notes are no longer there), and it's quite difficult to compare. The new Chaos is lovely, but many of those who ordered unsniffed, based only on the legend, were disappointed to discover it's not an Earth-shattering perfume.

3. Speaking of internet hype, the biggest stampede of the year was probably the Balmain craze. Take a fragrance or two from a classic house, previously only available in Europe for full retail price, no samples to speak of, one name evoking a desired raw materials (Ambre Gris) and the other one named after a classic French icon (La Môme), and all of a sudden release them in the USA through an online discounter for a fraction of the original price. The result is a mass hysteria of blind orders, ending with almost as many disappointed noses. While both scents are pleasant and very wearable, they are not the pinnacle of French perfumery.

4. While Le Labo continued with their (super annoying and totally unjustifiable) marketing gimmick of exclusive city releases (Los Angeles, Tokyo and London, joining the ones in Paris, NYC and Dallas) which you can only buy in person at those specific locations, Serge Lutens has eased his grip just a little and allowed for more of his non-export perfumes to be sold here in the US. You can now get Santal de Mysore, Bois de violette, Bois et Fruits and Un Bois Sepia at Bergdorf Goodman (and even order them by phone). The first three were recently made available at several other locations like Aedes in NYC, Scent Bar (L.A.) and the Canadian Perfume Shoppe. In addition, Chergui seems to have made a semi-permanent migration into the export line and is available wherever Lutens fragrances are sold. While I'm not sure this means you will soon be able to buy Muscs Kublai Khan at your nearest Neiman Marcus, it does seem like Uncle Serge has realized a thing or two about the art of making money.

5. Guerlain have continued the trend of odd marketing decisions. Releasing Habit Rouge in parfum while keeping some beautiful old classics in an EDT form, thus making their performance less than stellar. Combined with the LVMH tendency to cater to Saudi sheikhs more than to genuine perfume lovers (I have no other way to explain that Four Seasons set which contained one former Aqua Alegoria scent or the other four digit items that look more like merchandising than a perfume), it was not the happiest year for Guerlain fans. And I'm not saying a word about the ridiculous soft porn literature that accompanied the release of the Elixirs Charnels.

6. Chanel have expanded their Les Exclusifs line with more jugs of EDT juice while terminating the USA sales of the few formerly-available parfums (Bois de Isles and Cuir de Russie). Apparently, they think we all want to be supersized or go swimming in our bottles. While the new Sycomore is available wherever Les Exclusifs are sold (which means hardly anywhere), Beige is limited to Saks 5th Avenue's NYC flagship. According to a source in Chanel USA, it was never meant to be a major release and they were quite surprised at the internet uproar and downpour of phone orders the store has received. The result of the many blind buys was the usual disappointment, when buyers discovered Beige was a very tame floral and not as interesting as they hoped. What else is new?

7. Perfumes- The Guide by Luca Turin and Tania Sanchez is not the first book about perfumes. It's also a much less definite guide than the publisher would have you believe. Its strength (and also greatest weakness) is making perfume literature into entertainment. It has a somewhat broader appeal than most fragrance-related books (though for the life of me I cannot see the average L'Eau d'Issey one-bottle-a-year customer buying or enjoying this), and provides quite a bit of amusement to those who've sniffed a thing or two. Written by a scientist (Turin)and a former blogger and MakeupAlley popular reviewer (Sanchez), it mixes pop culture, snark and quite a bit of perfume knowledge. Still, at the end of the day, it's a book about the authors' opinions, a fact that seems to have escaped some of the online perfume community, fans and foes alike.

The release of the book was followed by a massive internet uproar from people who found their beloved scents being trashed. It was nearly as entertaining as some of Sanchez's more infamous quips, but not quite.

8. 2008 was the year the online perfume conversation has become even more important than ever before. Blogs and message boards have been spearheading trends for some time now, and this years we have also gotten some exclusive scoops and led important discussions. Denyse from Grain de Musc broke the story about the upcoming new Serge Lutens, Nuit de Cellophane, while I was the first to sniff and write about the latest Frederic Malle, Dans tes Bras. Our growing relevance is equal parts hard work, deep passion for the subject at hand and our loyal readers who make the effort enjoyable and worthwhile. For that, I thank you from the bottom of my heart.

And a special thank you to Helg of Perfume Shrine for organizing this blogging event.

For more 2008 Retrospective, please visit these blogs:

  • 1000 Fragrances

  • Ars Aromatica

  • A Rose Beyond the Thames

  • Bittergrace Notes

  • Grain de Musc

  • I Smell Therefore I Am

  • Legerdenez

  • Notes from the Ledge

  • Olfactarama

  • Savvy Thinker

  • Tuilleries

  • The Perfume Shrine

    1. Dear non-blonde, thank you for your fragrant view on 2008. It's the first time I post a comment here, but I have become quite a loyal reader of yours! Just wanted to wish you all the best for a stunning 2009. I've already got my lemming for next year: nuit de cellophane.

    2. Loved your 2008 wrap-up post. straight to the point, very accurate and fun to read. I am also a perfume blogger and I have been here a lot.
      Wicked as british call it.
      D+ as brazilians like me would call your blog!! D+ is: d = de +=mais and demais means awsome in portuguese slang.

      so, my best wishes for next year.
      may we all have wonderful fragrant experiences!

      You are linked in my blog and heart!


    3. Very informative review with constructive point of view - interesting to read:-)

    4. Everything else just blanked out for me - they now have Habit Rouge in PARFUM!? Be still O my heart, I love that stuff! Of course I probably can't justify the expense, but still...that must be about the only thing Guerlain did right in 2008. I am not sure what Chanel is doing either, do they think we are going to launch our yachts in those ginormous bottles?

      I did try one of the new Balmains, Ambre Gris, and it was lovely but not worth the full price and the hype, but much better than some other releases this year; I did not realize it had already gone downmarket though.

      I am still waiting to try El Attarine, sounds like my kinda perfume.


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