Sunday, December 28, 2008

Retrospective 2008: An unclever post

When I was invited to contribute to Retrospective 2008**, I thought I might try to say something smart about our current economic predicament and its possible effect on the world of perfumery. I looked into whether there seemed to be any correlation between boom and bust years for fragrance (aesthetically speaking) and the ups and downs of the economy. This is actually a fun little exercise, and easy to do using Basenotes’ directory. Just plug in a range of dates for the “year launched” and see what pops up. The boom years of the 1920s, as it turns out, were an extraordinary period for perfume, giving us many of the legendary Chanels, Carons and Lanvins. But the Great Depression, if not quite a golden age for fragrance freaks, still saw the birth of a lot of fine scents, including classics from Dana, Patou and Elizabeth Arden.

In fact, the more I looked at perfume birth dates, the more it became clear that every era has produced a few immortals and plenty of losers. The lovely Must de Cartier, as well as YSL’s pretty Paris, made their debuts during the depths of the Reagan recession in the early 80s. So did Giorgio, which may be a work of genius or the worst fragrance of all time—in either case, a truly memorable ‘fume. The 90s, in spite of being a time when the rich got much richer, produced an ocean of forgettable swill with comparatively few standouts, such as Angel and the early Serge Lutens scents.

So, my highly unscientific conclusion is that a tanking economy does not predict a dearth of good perfumes, nor does financial recovery promise happy days for scent addicts. In short, it’s a crapshoot.

So much for smart.

Since I can’t be clever, I’ll be self-absorbed, and just tell you what I am especially happy to have sniffed this year:

Thanks to curiosity inspired by posts at Perfume Shrine and OlfactaRama, I discovered two more great—and surely doomed—classic chypres that I’d missed ‘til now: Y from Yves Saint Laurent, and Jean-Louis Scherrer’s eponymous scent. Y is an exquisite, delicate floral chypre born in 1964. I suspect the new bottle I acquired is somewhat pallid compared to older formulations, but it’s still beautiful, and still a true chypre, unlike those weird replicants currently marketed as such.

Scherrer, introduced in 1979, is a chypre that opens with moxie, full-bodied and very green. It is Paloma Picasso without the honey, and without the critter skank. Within an hour or two, it becomes a soft, dry moss, comforting and gentle without being the least bit sweet. I can’t believe I’ve lived without it all these years.

As you know if you’ve been paying attention to my scent of the day over there in the margin, I have been slightly ga-ga for Madini oils this year. Chipre, Nile, Azahar, Henna, Papillon, Fez—I love ‘em all, and one of these days when I get the energy I’m going to post some reviews and some favorite layering combos.

Another happy find among scented oils has been the White Lotus Attar from Tigerflag Perfumery—perfect for those times when I want a rich but simple scent.

What else? On the vintage front, I am thrilled to have finally met Je Reviens in her full glory, thanks to that bottle Dave found in New Orleans. Among the new offerings, I’ve been especially delighted with Neil Morris’ Midnight Flower, and Yosh's Ginger Ciao.

The best thing about perfume in 2008, as in every year, has been the cleverness and generosity of my fellow obsessives. My warmest thanks to all of you, for sharing your knowledge, your perfume and your delightful company with me. Happy New Year!

An Allegory with Venus and Time, Giovanni Battista Tiepolo, 1754-58.

**The rest of the Retrospective circle:

Ars Aromatica

A Rose Beyond the Thames

Grain de Musc

I smell therefore I am (Brian)

Savvy Thinker

The Non Blonde


The Perfume Shrine


Notes from the Ledge


1000 Fragrances


Perfumeshrine said...

Best wishes honey and you're always smart, don't sweat it: In fact your deductions make a hell of a lot of sense!

Happy new year!!

ScentScelf said...

Reading your account of Dave finding those New Orleans treasures was one of *my* blog reading highlights of 2008! :)

Your run through perfume releases made me wonder: will time show that Giorgio: 1980's as Angel: 2000's ? Just putting it out there...

A certain Olfacta turned me on not only to the Scherrer, but Coty Chypre...and also, thankfully, a delight that is a bit more obtainable: the L'Aromarine Opopanax extrait. Lovely! Lightly incensed...myrrh inside...gets rather sweet on me, and I don't mind in the same way I don't mind when that happens with leathers like Cuir de Lancome or L'Ombre Fauve.

I agree with wonderful as the olfactory experiences have been in 2008, even better has been my experience connecting with the community. I can be a bit skeptical about such things...but so much talent, thinking, and generosity of spirit would make even Ebeneezer Scrooge do a Cabbage Patch dance of happiness.

BitterGrace said...

Happy New Year to you, E, thanks for inviting me to chime in!

SS--Your appearance here has been a very nice thing about 2008, along with getting to know you through your blog. I always look forward to your commentary. IMO, the comparison of Angel and Giorgio is right on the money. Both of them are absolute hallmarks of their day--and deserve to be revisited and reconsidered periodically.

L'Aromarine Opoponax is great, and I think L'Aromarine Mousse de Chene should be in every chypre lover's collection. You've reminded me, I have a drop of Coty Chypre somewhere. I need to use it up before it's too late, but now that oakmoss is virtual contraband, I find myself wanting hoard anything that contains it. I'd do my own Cabbage Patch dance if they'd lift those silly restrictions.

Mary said...

I can't believe I keep overlooking my Sherrer sample. Your post has inspired me to wear it today. Fun retrospective!