A Perfume Renaissance?

leonardo manGrumbling about the good old days before IFRA (the internal watchdog organization of the fragrance industry) banned so many ingredients has become customary on perfume blogs.  Partially it’s because many of us cannot understand how the same ingredients are recommended in aromatherapy and then forbidden for use in fragrance, except in micro doses more suitable to homeopathy than perfumery.

But no matter how much we grumble, the European perfume industry is changing. We seem to be heading for a fork in the road.

Given this context, it was interesting and saddening for me to see that Octavian Coifan of 1000 Fragrances was shuttering his blog.  He has a new position in the world of scent development which won’t allow him to blog anymore, but before leaving, he mentioned a renaissance in perfume that has taken place in the past several years, and I was pleased by the notion, because I agree, and had been thinking  along much the same lines.  IFRA notwithstanding, the last ten years have been really rich in young companies and their several fresh takes on perfume.

Has the last decade been the Good Old Days?  Much better than the “great years” when Edmond Roudnitska was still working? Have we been living through a golden age of perfume?  It’s entirely possible.  And if Octavian is correct, and there has been a perfume renaissance, which companies have contributed most towards it? Anyway, Octavian, way ahead of me as usual, had already thought this through. Here is his list:

1 Divine
2 Arquiste
3 Kilian
4 L’Artisan Parfumeur
5 F. Malle Editions de Parfums
6 de Nicolai
7 Olfactive Studio
8 F. Kurkdjian
9 Le 8eme Art (Pierre Guillaume)

Now you could quibble with this list. He left out Christopher Brosius, and a number of people would howl about Serge Lutens not being on it, or Jean Claude Ellena’s exclusion, but basically, I think Octavian’s List is a good one.  Every one of these companies has produced some perfumes of rare charm or originality.  Olfactive Studio is maybe the youngest and I’ve only briefly smelled their scents on cards, though Lumiere Blanche got good reviews.

I love the idea of living through a renaissance of anything at all (particularly in the middle of economic doldrums), and a perfume renaissance is one of the most beguiling suggestions of recent years. I suspect the interest of the public seeps through into the world of fragrance composition and creation, and irrigates a field of new scents done by enterprising perfumers.  If all this coincides with new materials, as it has, you get a potentially rich crop of creativity.

I can’t do more than speculate on the creations that Octavian thought were ground breaking, but here’s my best guess:

1 Divine L’Homme de Coeur
2 Arquiste Anima Dulcis
3 Kilian Back to Black
4 L’Artisan Parfumeur, Dzing or Vanilia
5 F. Malle Le Parfum de Therese or L’Eau d’Hiver
6 de Nicolai New York or Sacrebleu
7 Olfactive Studio Lumiere Blanche
8 F. Kurkdjian Lumiere Noir Pour Femme
9 Le 8 eme Art, Myrrhiad and since this is  Pierre Guillaume, Aomassai as well.

It’s not an exhaustive list and Octavian goes on to mention perfumers who contributed to the mainstream renaissance as well.  It’s worth taking a look at his blog before it closes it for good, as he will have it up for a little while longer.  Do yourself a favor.  Have a look.


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4 thoughts on “A Perfume Renaissance?

  1. Hmm … thoughtful and interesting post. But a renaissance in relation to what? I wonder what Octavian meant. A renaissance compared the bad ol’days of the 90s when everyone apparently bought non-scents like CK1 and Issey Miyake? No, he seems ot be referring to the last decade or so. A renaissance in relation to the number of niche houses popping up in the last 10 years charging high prices for mediocre stuff? A renaissance in the sense that perfumers are learning how to make wonderful fragrance without IFRA banned materials? Maybe that.

    It’s a complex business trying to judge our own times. Nicolai has been around since 1989, L’Artisan since 1976. Are they complicit in some kind of ‘bad ol’days’ of perfumery? Surely not.

    I agree with you on Sacrebleu; and I’d add Le Temps. And if Octavian was thinking of Prada Candy when he mentioned Daniela Andrier, I’m with him all the way!

    For me the real change – a change that may bring about a renaissance – has been the internet. None of us need now rely on what is sold in our local stores any more, or on the usually inaccurate information pushed at us by poorly trained SAs, or in magazine advertorials. As I think you suggest above, access to niche perfumes and to a wealth of independent commentary on perfumes and the industry has created a bunch of discerning consumers whose ideas and tastes can be fed directly back to the perfumers (bypassing the focus groups and evaluators). The online discount world has also pushed down prices for mainstream perfumes. (Niche is another story of course!.)

  2. And I did just post about the prices of niche perfumes!

    Possibly Octavian was thinking of the companies that became independent perfume producers, rather than creating perfumes for couturiers, jewelers, and other concerns, which is arguably still the dominant business model, the way all the big companies roll.

    It probably was Jean La Porte with L’Artisan who convinced other entrepreneurs that they could go it alone. It’s closer to Coty’s model from way back in 1904, and the best of them as you say, seem to trust their own instincts about a perfume rather than market test.

    The internet does clinch the deal. De Nicolai and Jean la Porte were pioneers and after them you get interesting perfumers like Pierre Guillaume willing to try a Guerlain or Caron or Coty like business model. I’m not sure if there’s been an out and out masterpiece from the independents yet. What do you think?

  3. Oh no! I’m not able to pick a masterpiece. Not going to go there – and anyway, a lot of indie stuff is too expensive for me even to sample – but I concede you may be right. The model should work but has it?

    Oddly enough there are many perfumes by Nicolai that I love and reach for often, but I don’t own a FB of any of them. It is because none of them have commanded my total love? Are they truly innovative, or just very, very well done? (Or just that I can’t make up my mind?) Well, I am fairly likely to fall for a FB of Le Temps one day unless I become totally smitten by one of her new summer releases.

    Narciso Rodriguez for Her is perhaps not innovate or a masterpiece but plenty of people adore it including me, and that is why I have a FB.

    • N R for her is a really good one, it’s spawned a whole mess of musk perfumes! And know what you mean about de Nicolais, although I always have Cologne Sologne and Pour Homme in my collection, and she has a musk too now, Musc Intense.

      Masterpieces… Possibly Arquiste Anima Dulcis is one.

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