Monday, December 30, 2013

Best Of 2013: My Perfume Picks

Welcome to the annual event where I complain about the incomprehensible number of perfume releases this year, the ubiquity of oud, the flankerization of the market, Guerlain (or Chanel) in general , and the fact that Bertrand Duchaufour and Francis Kurkdjian could use a sabbatical. But a funny thing happened as I was going over my notes, files, and purchases: several of the above found themselves firmly on my Best Perfumes of 2013 list. Go figure.

Part 1: My Top 2013 perfume picks (links go to my reviews where available) in no particular order:
  • Phoenicia Perfumes- RealOud (and also Skin Graft). Perfumer David Falsberg channels emotion and life experience into his perfume stories, and the result is soul-stirring.
  • Le Labo- Ylang 49 & Lys 41. The two perfumes that made my summer. Gorgeous, sensual, and surprisingly accessible even if you don't live for white flowers.
  • Neela Vermeire Creations- Ashoka. The fourth perfume Bertrand Duchaufour created for Neela Vermeire's line is a calming fig-iris-suede affair. Love at first sniff.
  • Soivohle- Carpathian Oud. Liz Zorn does vampires. And oud. The husband's favorite perfume of the year.
  • Mona di Orio- Eau Absolue   A citrus gone bad in the best possible way. 
  • Serge Lutens- La Fille de Berlin. While I'm not completely sold yet on Lutens' newest exclusive, La Vierge de Fer, the romantic  red rose from the export line is my favorite of his three rose perfumes.
  • Etat Libre d'Orange- La Fin du Monde. Apparently, the end of the world will come in a storm of butter and iris. I'm fine with that.
  • Aftelier- Cuir de Gardenia. Straight out of a film noir, a sensual affair of flowers and leather.
  • Sonoma Scent Studio- Cocoa Sandalwood. A very grown up chocolate perfume, creamy and smooth, yet not too sweet.
  • Viktoria Minya- Hedonist. A black tie perfume for the grandest occasions.
  • Puredistance- Black. A maybe-oud for old money.
  • Tauer Perfumes- Noontide Petals. Andy Tauer bottled Art Deco and caught the light in the process.
Part 2: But wait! There's more!

While I have little to no patience for derivative mall perfumes, some mainstream brands managed to bridge the gap between marketing and perfume-making in a way that truly delighted me:
Tom Ford Sahara Noir is kind of a sequel to last year's Noir (I bought a bottle for my father), and smells more interesting than all the Private Blend releases from this year.
Then there's Balenciaga Rosabotanica, a beautifully-done flanker to the rather bland Florabotanica. It's safe, but also very very pretty, which has to count.
Collections & Concepts:

  • Did Francis Kurkdjian really need to add more oud to his Maison? The Mood trio (Oud Cashmere, Oud Velvet, and Oud Silk) are so well-crafted that I ended up liking them despite my initial suspicion. And they're different enough from the other ouds (real and pretenders at Bergdorf).
  • DSH Perfumes Passport to Paris Collection for the Denver Art Museum was inspired by a very French exhibition (almost worth a trip to Denver). The three perfumes Dawn Spencer Hurwitz created  (Passport a Paris, Amouse Bouche, Vers la Violette) are a wonderful homage to classic perfumes as they take you on a journey through time and distance to the Paris of your dreams.
  • Charenton Maceration- Christopher Street is a wonderful representation of New York City. Gender-bending, fun, yet political and carrying centuries of history.
Breakout Perfume Artist:Bruno Fazzolari. Visual arts and perfume. Try Au Dela and Lampblack.
Brand Reboot
Slumberhouse and Scents By Alexis have been around for a couple of years now, but perfumers Josh Lobb and Alexis Karl have made some changes and took their lines to the next level. Both represent artisan work at its best.

Perfume Book
Barbara Herman- Scent & Subversion. An excellent book for perfume lovers everywhere. An exploration of perfume history and aesthetics that reminds us of the time before inoffensive office scents.

Twisted Lily in Brooklyn (360 Atlantic Avenue) opened earlier this fall and has made our lives that much sweeter, offering many luxury and indie perfume lines, several of them (Slumberhouse, Providence Perfume Company, Jardins d’Ecrivains, Rouge Bunny Rouge) were previously unavailable anywhere else in NYC.

For more 2013 perfume picks please visit Bois de Jasmin, Grain de Musc, Now Smell This, and Perfume Posse.

Women at Perfume Counter, c. 1948, by Dan Weiner via


  1. This is a wonderful list, thank you!
    I too fell in love with La Fin du Monde and also Noontide Petals-which was a complete surprise for me and helped open me up to the world of aldehydes.

    And I'll add two others I fell in love with this year: Armani Prive Cuir Noir and Rose D'Arabie. I also really liked Tom
    Ford's Oud Fleur.

    I've got Real Oud, Skin Graft, Hedonist, Ashoka and Teo Cabanel's Barkhane on my to try list.

    1. I still need to try that Teo Cabanel. The new Armani Prive ones are very impressive, I agree.

  2. Thanks for a wonderful list and a suitably optimistic end to what hasn't been a terrible year.

    I received the Barbara Herman book as a Christmas book and I'm looking forward to curling up with it very soon.

    All the best to you for 2014!

    1. Thanks, Dear D. I definitely tried to look at the bright side, since there's so much good and great in our perfumed world. As long as there are great perfumers with vision and integrity we'll always have something nice to wear.
      Wishing you a wonderful 2014!

  3. Just a lovely list! Thank you, Gaia! I went to Bergdorf today and had a good sniff & spray of SL La Fille de Berlin and "living" with it today. It's quite intoxicating and I'm loving how close it feels on my skin. I've been searching for a rose forever. Maybe this will be it. :)

    1. I'm so happy to hear it! La Fille de Berlin enchanted me, and I'm not even a rose person.

  4. Thank you for the list. I bought my sister the Scent & Subversion book. She loves it.

    1. Lizzie, I've been thinking of getting S&S for my own sister, but I'm not sure she'd enjoy it as much as I did. She loves perfume, but isn't quite as rabid a perfumista. I probably should replenish her decant of SL Bois Oriental.

  5. Fantastic list! I'm with you in being less than delighted by the tsunami of new releases each year. Am like a broken record, always grousing about feeling overwhelmed and that it's become impossible for me to keep up (although given the truly surreal number of samples I have, it's clearly not for want of trying). I also tend to go on and on about the lack of quality releases, but end of year lists always remind me that despite a lot of dreck, there really were a fair number of brilliant, wonderful releases (many of which I found thanks to your reviews of them), especially by smaller perfumers that have made me extremely happy and for which I'm very grateful. And am so glad to see Barbara Herman's book on your list. Scent and Subversion has become one of my top three favorite perfume books of all time.

    1. Thanks, Anna. I know what you mean: in the sea of samples (I have a full cabinet dedicated to samples and it's still getting out of hand) and boring juice I still found new loves and bought enough bottles to declare 2013 a good one as far as perfume goes.

  6. Great perfume picks. La Fin du Monde is definitely on my to-try list--I look forward to your review, whenever it appears. :)

    My absolute favorite discovery of 2013 was Mona di Orio Violette Fumee. WOW. The instant I win the lottery, I'm getting a bottle of this! And I thank you for your review, which was my intro to it. My second pic for 2013 is Dries van Noten par F Malle. I know many people found it dull, but I enjoy it throughly. It's both comforting and elegant--a marvelous combination.

    1. I'll probably review La Fin du Monde next week. I've been wearing it so much it's almost become part of my body.

      I did enjoy Violet Fumee-- it's beautiful. I just love Eau Absolue better, which is a surprise. I know what you mean about DvN: it doesn't do much for me other than as an adequate skin scent, but I've smelled it on others and it's a real beauty.

    2. I've almost ordered a sample/decant of the Eau Absolue several times (aided/abetted by your review)…I'm sure someday I will. It sounds wonderful.

      Can't wait for the Fin du Monde review!

  7. Thank you so much Gaia for this recognition of Cuir de Gardenia, you have made my 2013 very special! Happy New Year!
    xo Mandy

  8. 2014 -A jumble of juices ahead Gaia; or is it a jungle? I would add to your list that for me the most memorable graphic was the image that you published with your Cuir de Gardenia review. Mr Falsberg has stirred my soul too. Your back story on him led to a Feral encounter as well as a Loud one. He is out there. Despite a cordial relationship he refuses to give Skype number of his South East Asian Oud supplier. Still to try; Sahara Noir. That bottle will look perfect next to Black Orchid. Is there not an eye shadow or something of the same name from TF; that would be one of the things you can try so I don't have to! I love your tagline but often it means that you have tried something and now I have to rather than 'don't have to'. Happy Everything to you and the cats and The Husband of The Non-Blonde for 2014 and beyond. Great to read his list too.

  9. Thank you so much for the honor of being amongst your Best ofs.,,truly honored and always happy to see Jordan lurking.


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