This year saw more than 1,700 new fragrance launches. As I envision the sea of perfume bottles, I feel slightly lightheaded. Is it possible to smell them all and choose a small number of favourites? Such a task is fraught with problems. However, I have no difficulties talking about the perfumes that I’ve tried, found exceptional and worn so much that they comprised my scented soundtrack for the year. The five fragrances I’ve selected represent different genres and styles, but the one element they have in common is surprise. They reinterpret classic themes, challenge conventions and, most importantly, smell wonderful.
At the top of my list is Galop d’Hermès (£183 for 50ml EDP), a fragrance that appears at first as a pastel-toned, chic rose, but has a dark, smouldering heart. To wear Galop is to be enveloped in soft layers of leather, woods and musk. The new Hermès in-house perfumer Christine Nagel also added an accord of incense-inflected rose and juicy quince, an extra surprise.
Another perfume that combines elegance with intrigue is L’Envol de Cartier (£64 for 50ml EDP). Inspired by flight and the Brazilian aviation pioneer Alberto Santos-Dumont, who designed and flew hot-air balloons, L’Envol is a radiant combination of honey, woods and patchouli. It has a mellow start that makes me think of tobacco and leather, but within moments L’Envol accelerates into a smoky, sensual drydown. It’s my favourite masculine fragrance of the year.
Gabrielle Chanel made her name in fashion by borrowing elements of traditional masculine aesthetics — sharp tailoring, cardigan sweaters, tweeds — for her couture. For the 17th Les Exclusifs launch, perfumer Olivier Polge chose to follow in Coco’s footsteps by recasting a classical men’s family, fougère, as feminine. Named after Arthur “Boy” Capel, Gabrielle Chanel’s lover and benefactor, the new fragrance combines an accord of lavender, geranium and moss with the softness of rose, orange blossom and milky almond. In Boy (£130 for 75ml EDP), the lucid, sharp character of fougère is contrasted with the lingering, velvety notes of flowers and musks.
From Catania, Sicily, comes a fragrance as baroque as the city’s opulently decorated Basilica della Collegiata. Antonio Alessandria, owner of the cult fragrance store Boudoir 36, is also a perfumer. His line Antonio Alessandria Parfums features four fragrances, and Fleurs et Flammes (£165 for 50ml EDP) caught my attention with its dramatic character. The smoky tuberose and gardenia are layered against green leaves and dark woods, one contrast building and reinforcing the other. (Fleurs et Flammes was created in 2015, but it finally reached my shores this year.)
The most unexpected aspect of By Kilian Moonlight in Heaven (£215 for 50ml EDP) is that it’s a gourmand perfume that’s neither sugary nor heavy. The idea behind it was to create an impression of the famous Thai dessert of mango and sticky rice. It does so in a delicious but abstract manner. Like other fragrances on my list, it juxtaposes unusual elements — spicy pink pepper and creamy rice, fresh grapefruit and nutty tonka bean, sweet mango and salty vetiver. Perfumer Calice Becker makes Moonlight in Heaven luminous by adding her airy and radiant signature. It’s addictive.
Victoria Frolova has been writing her perfume blog boisdejasmin.comsince 2005. Her explorations of fragrance touch upon all elements that make this subject rich and complex: science, art, literature, history and culture. Frolova is a recipient of three prestigious Fragrance Foundation FiFi Awards for Editorial Excellence and, since receiving her professional perfumery training, has also been working as a fragrance consultant and researcher.