I thought it would be an easy thing—compiling a list of the Best of 2009 in terms of perfumes—but really, it’s not. I thought it would be easy because, thanks to a lovely woman who played the part of my perfume-fairy godmother, I actually got to sniff a lot of new releases in 2009. Yet looking back over some of the newly launched fragrances I tried, I realize I am quite the nitpicky and narrow-minded Goldilocks when it comes to perfume sniffage. Either that or a bit of a perfume contrarian, because I could give you a laundry list of the ones that have garnered many fans within the online perfume community but that weren’t to my liking...

Suzanne's Perfume Journal

Acqua di Parma Magnolia Nobile?  A tenaciously tedious lemon note ruined this one, for which I had high hopes, being a white-floral lover.

Le Labo Oud 27 was tedious too. Dirty, but in a one-dimensional way—like sweat that has nowhere to go but the sweatshop.

Ineke Field Notes From Paris wasn’t tedious, but so harsh, loud and discordant that I couldn’t wait to scrub it off my wrists, and neither could my husband (“Oh honey, that’s just awful,” were his exact words).

December 29, 2009:

My Picks for The Best of 2009: A Joint Blog Project

To read my most recent posts, return to Home Page

...but I’ll stop here, because my point isn’t to bash (my dislike of these perfumes doesn't mean they aren't good) so much as it is to say that, while I did try a fair number of new fragrances this year, only a small few made my Best of 2009 list. And so what you will find here is a list that—in order to have enough items to make it a proper list—includes fragrances that may or may not be nascent to 2009, but that occupied my attention this past year nonetheless.

Estee Lauder Private Collection Jasmine White Moss parfum. What a surprise for me: I really wasn’t expecting to love Estee Lauder’s answer to the new chypre (the non-oakmoss chypre, in other words), but this beauty is complex, with a classic, pyramidal structure that allows the fragrance to unfold during its long wear on your skin. It is an olfactory meander through an exquisite garden, and at each stage of its wear, there are subtle changes in the terrain.

Going green. I had a craving for green perfumes in 2009 that I believe was directly influenced by my environment: an extremely cool and rainy spring, summer and fall in Pennsylania that proved inclement to the wearing of sunny perfumes and begged for something more congruous.  The ones I wore most?  Chanel Bel Respiro, so breathy and tender in its suggestion of a fine spring lawn; the original Estee Lauder Private Collection, unrepentantly verdant with its obscene amount of galbanum; and Etro Palais Jamais, a leathery, arid scent that smells like green wood heaped on a campfire.

Amouage Ubar. Decadent and exotic, this fragrance is without a doubt my favorite fragrance of 2009. In terms of complexity and materials, it resembles an Oriental carpet: there is a lily-of-the-valley note that entwines around lemon in the beginning, and then peaks its darling head in and out of the richest tapestry of rose, jasmine, sandalwood, vanilla, civet and moss that has ever been spun. Ubar is the kind of fragrance that many people find “too much, too big!” but that suits this Goldilocks just right.

Vanilla madness!  When L’Artisan Parfumeur announced the launch of its 2009 vanilla scent, Havanna Vanille, you could almost hear the sound of thundering feet through the Internet as swarms of perfume lovers raced to the company’s website in anticipation of its release. (The perfect non-foody vanilla scent is not easy to find!) As I waited excitedly along with everyone else, I suddenly remembered that I had a sample of Montale Boisé Vanillé…and in very short order I had a full bottle of Montale Boisé Vanillé. Craving satisfied, I have more or less forgotten about Havanna Vanille. Montale Boisé Vanillé is an androgynous beauty that is elegant, seductive, smoky and resinous.

Juliet by Juliet Stewart. If you’re a regular reader here, then you know that I rarely review quiet scents. In general, I crave the fussy kinds of things that old ladies and perhaps even drag queens might wear. But occasionally my heart is captivated by a delicate, veil-like scent, and this year that scent was Juliet. You know what I love about it most?  It smells like it was constructed with quality, natural aroma-materials. The citrus and herbal top notes are light and effervescently volatile—meaning, they don’t last forever, they burn off the way natural citrus notes should burn off. (Thank you!  I don’t want to be dogged by a synthetic lemon note for what seems like hours on end.) And Juliet’s honeysuckle-like jasmine, creamy vanilla and soft amber base is like the sheen on a pearl: softly, sweetly radiant.

Fruit, glorious fruit!  In the perfume-lovin’ community, fruity fragrances get a bad rap, so why am I lovin’ on them here?  Maybe it is the contrarian in me, but more likely it's because I have reached a stage in my perfume exploration where I am finally able to lift my nose out of the white florals in which it is usually ensconced, and cast a curious look around for something new to smell. The sangria-like fermentation of pear, peach and mandarin in Robert Piguet Visa is a welcome addition to that scent’s florals and leather. The piquant fruits of Dawn Spencer Hurwitz’s Quinacridone Violet make my mouth water the way a sourball candy does. And though I once remarked to a friend that Creed Acqua Fiorentina, with its greengage plum note, was “so bad it’s actually fun to wear”—(last summer I thought it smelled like plum Kool-aid)—I now have to eat my words and confess that I actually crave this fragrance because I find it good--very good. The greenness of the plum is tangy and pleasing (especially here in the dead of winter) and layered over the sheer sandalwood base, the composition seems elegant in its simplicity.

Amouage Epic Woman. You’re probably tired of me yammering on and on about Amouage, so I’ll keep this short. It seems to me that the most engaging fragrances usually involve contrasting elements, and you have such contrasts here in this dusk-falls-on-the-Silk-Road rose scent. The voluptuous sweetness of rose is tempered by minty cool greenery and acrid spices; the close, saturated quality of rose is tempered by the drifty, atmospheric smokiness of frankincense. There's much more to love about this scent, too, but in a word: Gorgeous!

 So there you have it!  My Best of 2009. And now I’m off to the other perfume blogs to find out what everyone put on their lists.  I hope you'll join me by visiting the participating blogs below.

(My sincere thanks to the very erudite and kind Helg at Perfume Shrine for organizing the event, and for inviting me to particpate.  Thanks, Helg—it was fun!)