If a pining for the past is a sign of social disquiet, then 2014 must have been a worrying year for the perfume industry: a significant proportion of new releases focussed on bygone eras, presenting 'retro' aesthetics in an attempt to win over an increasingly apathetic public. This was particularly apparent in the number of old-school leather scents which hit the shelves. Granted, several of them were very good indeed - you'll find a few below - but they did suggest that scent-makers' creative endeavours were in a holding pattern, unwilling to stray too far from a familiar flight path.
Thankfully, a few praiseworthy pieces of work did soar above the dreck. Whether there is anything approaching a consensus on what the year's best perfumes were remains to be seen: a splintering of styles, approaches and tastes - in the realms of both scent creation and criticism - seemed to be one of the defining characteristics of the last twelve months. Perhaps next year will see a greater level of cohesion... or maybe we'll all be swamped by the might of the multi-nationals, as they buy up one niche player after another.
But let's put that aside for the moment. After all, it wouldn't do to end the year on a gloomy note. As I say, there were plenty of new fragrances about which I became genuinely excited and which reinforced my appreciation of the art of perfumery. Here we go, then. In no particular order, the twelve best perfumes of 2014, according to Persolaise.com...
Magnolia Grandiflora Michel by Michel Roudnitska (Grandiflora)
Eros must have been guiding Roudnitska's hands when he created this headily romantic expression of magnolia's most sensuous facets. Buttery, milky and, of course, floral, his Magnolia makes a heart-breaking companion piece to his own father's Diorissimo. Irresistible.
L'Orpheline by Christopher Sheldrake (Serge Lutens)
The tenderness of L'Orpheline came as a complete surprise. After the teeth-baring sneers of some of the brand's recent releases, this unostentatious, murmuring essay on duality - juxtaposing woods with flowers - won me over with its pensive sighs and haunted expression. Nostalgia never seemed so angst-ridden.
Chaldée by Henri Almeras and Thomas Fontaine (Jean Patou)
I was smitten when I first tried this and I remain smitten still. 'Retro' in all the best ways, this re-release of Almeras' 1920s tanning oil scent is a boudoir of fleshy decadence dressed up in well-tailored finery. Resinous, powdery and animalic, it feels like a call not just from the last century, but from the very dawn of time.
Amber Oud by Patricia De Nicolaï (Nicolaï)
Patricia De Nicolaï decided that she wouldn't succumb to the oud trend until she could bring something new to the treatment of the material. Amber Oud is the commendable fruit of her patience. An intriguing, instantly likeable blend of agar wood with lavender and herbal aromatics, it proves that originality can be found even in the most frequented alleyways of perfumery.
Coven (Andrea Maack)
One of the year's most unusual releases came not from France or the Middle East, but from Iceland. Dark, dirty and very, very weird, Coven brews pepper, soil, woods, leaves and mud into a potent spell, as compelling as it is bizarre. If only Maack would tell us who made it for her.
Cuir Cannage by François Demachy (Christian Dior)
It may have been inspired by nostalgic visions of post-WWII women with their handbags and form-fitting suits, but there's also something undeniably modern about Demachy's gender-neutral combination of leather notes with a diffusive ylang ylang facet. Distinctive and full-bodied, Cuir Cannage sparkles with elegance even as it sharpens its dangerous claws.
Eau De Magnolia by Carlos Benaïm (Editions De Parfums Frederic Malle)
Cuir D'Ange by Jean-Claude Ellena (Hermès)
You can always rely on Ellena to try to avoid cliches. Sure, the leather in Cuir D'Ange is suitably hide-like, but thanks to some scented wizardry, it's gentler and wispier than the vast majority of perfumes in this genre. Indeed, as its name suggests, it is angelic. And it proves that Ellena's olfactory story-telling skills are as strong as ever.
Rose Flash by Andy Tauer (Tauer Perfumes)
Rose Flash by Andy Tauer (Tauer Perfumes)
Who needs another rose? Well, we all do, when they're as charming as this one. Exploding with joie de vivre, Tauer's spicy, deeply caramelised take on his favourite flower is not unlike a ride on a Ferris wheel, complete with squeals, giggles, excitement... and lips covered in candy floss.
Laine De Verre by Christopher Sheldrake (Serge Lutens)
Yes, it's Lutens again, but this time, in an entirely different mode. If L'Orpheline is a gaze into the past, Laine De Verre feels like a peek through a telescope pointed at the future. Crackling with fuzzy electricity, it takes deep-frozen strawberries, zaps them with refrigerated incense and serves them on a layer of stainless steel. A cunning treat.
Iris Nazarena by Ralf Schwieger (Aedes De Venustas)
I was torn between this and Aedes' more recent Oeillet Bengale (gorgeously composed by Rodrigo Flores-Roux). Both are laudable examples of traditional perfumery notes being revisited, reinterpreted and revitalised for modern audiences. But Schwieger's subtle, soulful alignment of iris, peach and incense has the edge, in my view.
Bentley For Men Absolute by Michel Almairac (Bentley)
Detractors may claim that this is too close to Almairac's own Gucci Pour Homme (2003) to warrant inclusion on a Best Of list, but I'd assert that it does possess a distinctive feature: dryness. And besides, the Gucci has been discontinued. Combining incense, amber and pepper with an inconspicuous oud note, Absolute is easily one of the most handsome masculines of the year.
I can't resist making a couple of honourable mentions. I really wanted to include François Demachy's Colonia Leather (Acqua Di Parma), but I resolved that twelve would be an absolute maximum, otherwise the purpose of compiling a Best Of list would be defeated. It shares many characteristics with Tuscan Leather (Tom Ford), but it's quieter, sweeter and more even-tempered. Antoine Lie's Rien Intense Incense (Etat Libre D'Orange) was another one over which I agonised, but in the end, I decided that it was insufficiently different from the original to make it into the Top 12. That said, it is an awesome earthquake in a bottle, so do seek it out if you can.
Please be sure to visit Perfume Shrine and The Candy Perfume Boy for more lists. As I write these words, I have no idea which scents have made it onto their end-of-year round-ups, so I shall be heading over to their sites as eagerly as you will.
Finally, a great, big, musky, non-IFRA-compliant Thank you to everyone who supported Persolaise.com this year... especially YOU, dear reader! May you all have a peaceful, healthy, wondrously scented 2015.
See you in the new year,