Sunday 30 January 2011

The Top Sniffs - And Nasty Niffs! - Of 2010

Having checked last year's archives, I see that I put up my "Best Of 2009" post on 18th January. I am even later to the party this year with my lists - so late in fact that everyone has already upped and left, and only the overflowing ashtrays and empty beer cans testify to the fact that there ever was a party. But I shan't let that small matter of timetabling concern me. After all, I am not CNN (though I wouldn't say no to their Google page rank! : - )), and there will be no up-to-the-minute ticker tape bulletins scrolling past your eye at the bottom of my posts...

Now in last year's scent round up I was careful to manage readers' expectations, and it might be worth repeating the passage here, not least for its media analogy:

"...regular readers of Bonkers about Perfume will know full well by now that they are not automatically going to get a considered and impeccably researched review of the latest releases, whether at the time of the launch or indeed ever. What they can count on is a lucky dip, a potluck supper - albeit one made with a packet sauce. For I am arguably the convenience food equivalent of the perfume blogs, the redtop newspaper..."

So what I am offering (then as now) is simply a list of scents that have appealed to me - or not - over the past year. Some were launched in 2010, others in 2009, however it took me until 2010 to catch up with them. I will make a separate note of one or two happy discoveries in 2010 of scents launched before 2009.

There is an interesting analysis over on Persolaise about the validity and usefulness of these sorts of "Best Of" lists. For example, Persolaise takes issue with the following statement: "...the unwritten principle seems to be that if enough people mention a certain scent, it must be good."

I agree that this yardstick is flawed, whether the reviewers in question are highly regarded scent critics or ordinary consumers on and similar sites, whose collective feedback also consitutes a large body of opinion. My own approach in reading other bloggers' lists is to correlate the frequency of good reviews with whether or not I happen to have much crossover with the taste of the people in question.

The latter variable is very significant, and one which I am constantly refining. Robin of Now Smell This is the reviewer with whom I have most common ground - somewhere around the 65-70% mark at a guess - while my "taste congruence" with other female reviewers ranges from 10% to 50%. I shan't be more specific for fear of hurting anyone's feelings, although the fact that I don't share these bloggers' preferences in no way diminishes my enjoyment of their blogs or my "virtual attachment" to them as individuals.

So by the same token, I hope that the scents I have selected for my "Best Of" list will help round out the composite picture for anyone conducting their own cross-comparison of the various lists out there. This could either be in a positive sense, or to help people steer clear of scents I like because they know I normally lean to the gentle and understated side of things, while they may prefer fragrances with a more robust character - the perfume equivalent of a hearty Barolo, if you will.

Returning to Persolaise's post for a moment, he welcomes the diversity of viewpoints in the fragrant blogosphere, because of this difficulty of eliminating subjective judgements in assessing a perfume's merit:

"We need different conversations about perfume in just the same way that we need different perfumes. Indeed, we probably need the conversations more than we need a limiting, reductive sense of good and bad..."

And at the end of the day, even if the lists below aren't a blind bit of use to anyone, it is at least a helpful record for ME of what I have tried in 2010, and what is still out there on my list....


Two perfumes tie for top place - it's a cop out, so shoot me!

Diptyque Eau Duelle

"Transitional* snuggler" - not one but two types of vanilla, plus wisps of incense in the base.

*in the seasonal sense.

Parfumerie Générale Bois Naufragé

Calming, milky, woody skin scent with figs and a hint of salt - perfect for Pilates!

Last year Penhaligon's Amaranthine was my overall top sniff, and though a much more "in your face" kind of tropical floral than my usual style, it also shares this comforting, creamy aspect.


Diptyque Eau Duelle
Parfumerie Générale Bois Naufragé
Guerlain 180 Ans de Création (all together now: "Please release this, let me buy!")
Atelier Cologne Oolong Infini
Atelier Cologne Bois Blonds
Serge Lutens Bas de Soie (Perfume Shrine captures this one beautifully)
Van Cleef & Arpels Collection Extraordinaire: Lys Carmin (two other favourites from the range made it onto my 2009 list)
Guerlain Tonka Impériale
Ormonde Jayne Tiare
Maison Kurkdjian APOM pour Femme
Penhaligon's Orange Blossom Cologne
The Different Company Oriental Lounge
Floris Snow Rose


Mary Greenwell Plum (Museinwoodenshoes has the ultimate review)
Balenciaga Paris (musky violets with austere greenery)
Vivienne Westwood Naughty Alice (Balenciaga Paris's rosy-cheeked kid sister)
Hermes Eau Claire des Merveilles (a clean Shalimar meets a less weird Eau des Merveilles)
YSL Belle d'Opium (since the incense left the building, my attachment has become largely sentimental)
Estée Lauder Sensuous Noir (not "noir" by a long chalk, but dusky pink at least)
Calvin Klein Beauty (hey, everything's relative...)
Paco Rabanne Lady Million (nice on someone else)

As ever, it is interesting to me to look back at this list of favourite fragrances and identify what they reveal about my taste. Not surprisingly, they are all pretty polite, with some "skin scents" again in evidence. The most frequently occurring note is probably vanilla, but I also seem to be ineluctably drawn to musk, iris, lilies, rose, woods and incense; I also have quite a high tolerance of sweetness these days (which seems to be increasing with age). OJ Tiare and Penhaligon's Orange Blossom cover off the citrus segment to which I will be drawn again in warmer weather.


Ormonde Jayne Orris Noir (thanks, Sarah Vine & Ormonde Jayne)
Sonia Rykiel Rykiel For Woman Not For Men! (thanks, Wordbird)
Stéphanie de Saint-Aignan Royal Palm (thanks, lovethescents)
Rancé Laetitia (thanks, Potiron)


Guerlain Plus Que Jamais (my HGS, no less!)

And now, moving on to the ones which I didn't care for...


Thierry Mugler Womanity (hold the popcorn accord, puh-lease!)
Parfumerie Générale Papyrus de Ciane (forbidding, bitter, dank grasses)
Nina Ricci Scarlett - (syrupy Jammy Dodgers)


As before, here are some of the (mostly niche) releases from 2010 that were too "difficult" or just not my style. The list also includes a number of scents which I hoped to like but didn't, for each of which I have included an explanatory note.

Maison Kurkdjian Cologne Pour Le Matin (insane levels of soap)
Maison Kurkdjian Cologne Pour Le Soir (discordant mix of notes - I have blanked this one out, it was so disagreeable)
L'Artisan Parfumeur Nuit de Tubéreuse (weird Juicy Fruit & herbal / medicinal issues)
L'Artisan Parfumeur Traversée du Bosphore (too much opulent fruit and powder, but deserves a retrial)
L'Artisan Parfumeur Havana Vanille (surprised to find the vanilla too rich, maybe in combination with the tobacco?)
Ajne Vanille (overly gourmand, sweet burnt toast - shame as I bought it unsniffed!)
Ineke Gilded Lily (the name says it all)
Andy Tauer Une Rose Vermeille (Tauer-ade alert!)
Jo Malone English Pear & Freesia (a niche version of Armani Idole, sadly)
Annick Goutal Ninfeo Mio (stridently sharp, though I did persevere with it)
Hermès Voyage d'Hermès (spoilt by sharp lime note)
Gucci Guilty (lilac is not a contemporary note, I have decided)
Marc Jacobs Bang (probably great on a man, but too spicy/woody on my skin)
Prada Infusion de Tubéreuse (indistinct white floral - bland even by my relaxed standards)
DKNY Pure (felt physically sick - heliotrope combined with the P & O Ferry I was on at the time?)


Ajne Sublime
Ajne Bella
Ajne Nectar
Christian Dior La Collection
Floris Amaryllis
DelRae Panache
Hermès Hermessences Iris Ukiyoé

I am sure there were lots more on this last list, and I may come back and add others in as I remember them, indeed the same applies to any of the lists. The Nasty Niffs one seems exceptionally short this year.

Also, in terms of what I tested, having checked against the list of new releases in Now Smell This - some 90% of which I have not tried - it is plain to me that I should get out more. Next month I am off to London and hope to make up some lost ground.

Photo of driftwood heart from, photo of vanilla pods from, photos of Eau Duelle and Bois Naufragé from Fragrantica, photo of Plum from, photo of Womanity from, photo of Ninfeo Mio from


ScentScelf said...

I don't know where to start! P&O Ferry (a LOL and a nostalgic fondness)...what about lists...who IS going to clean up the ashtrays, anyway?... Oh, I do know. The issue of what to do with other people's opinions.

I love reading reviews. I love simply being entertained by a good review. I also have a habit of mentally tracking; somewhere in my intrawebs I have a vague construction, a sort of Venn diagram of who said what and how their impressions overlay with mine and those of others. I could never have a full out Scent Twin (or Evil Scent Twin); things are never so clearly sorted. By, like you, I do see the odds...for a long time, Robin at NST was close, as was Erin. March at Posse I could always get, and didn't even bother with whether or not we "agreed"; it was more an issue of "ah, so that is what a potato tastes like in your part of the world." Helg at Perfume Shrine similarly wrapped me into description in such a way that I would try things to see if I got what she got; Victoria at Bois de Jasmin flat out seduced me. Marina at PST often got so much more out of things I would try again, just in case. Brian and Abigail at ISTIA always made me run back just for fun.

Nobody was ever wrong or right. Just like in any "best of" list, film, music, whatever; "top ten" or "best" or what have you was a shorthand for discussion, and one way to pose a snapshot of the year.

I still really have no sense of our overlap or not, btw. It's really been more fun talking back and forth than any concern about what is shared or not.

As for specific scents, I am happy to see Bois Naufrage get a holler, as I totally forgot about that one. And am still not sure how I feel about it. I've had a few different experiences, and should go back. Maybe it will be my next Dans Tes Bras, succeeding in capturing my fancy (and my purchase) simply by dint of being so darn interesting, with intermittent periods of joy.

Traversee skewed so sweet on me I hesitated going back. Ever. I will. Someday. I think I referred to Cologne pour la Matin as "detergent," so we are in accord there. I've tried too few of the designer scents you mention to comment meaningfully. As for Havana Vanille...okay, I sigh a bit. I love it. (Note for divergence on the Venn.) But I also loved Oriental Lounge, so put us in the same section there.

I'm too much of a contrarian (or is it skeptic? or what??) to think that "most frequently listed" equals "good." Heck, that is akin to saying "that which earns the most money is good," right? (You all have McDonald's there, yes?) I will allow that if the frequency of mention comes from people whose sorting methods I pay attention to, well, I'll weight the grade a little more heavily. But, as I said, in the end it's just a snapshot to me.

I am so glad to have a chance to study your own picture of 2010--and that you let me write all over the margins. :)

Vanessa said...

Hi ScentScelf,

You are always welcome to write all over my margins, which I sense are wide and flexible - or possibly long and flexible? - but anyway, write away, do!

It seems we have a similar approach to cross-mapping Top Sniff lists, and it is definitely a work-in-progress to suss out the bloggers who are most on one's nasal wavelength, so to speak. : - )

I am also a little sketchy about our own exact Venn overlap - 30-40% perhaps? The same sort of "congruence band" as several others fall into, in fact. Who knows? It is fun having hunches and investigating possible scent contenders, even if they turn out in the end to be another woman's Poison...

Marina said...

We are probably not what one would call scent twins :) Probably quite the opposite, but I enjoy your posts tremendously. We do share some top sniffs though, interestingly in the designer category. And I am sure I will love Mary Greenwell Plum when and if I will finally get my paws on a sample.

Angela Cox said...

"Please release me , let me go into the shops that everyone knows" . So what Engelbert it's not a cover version and I can't sing.

Vanessa said...

Hi Marina,

Not scent twins, no, but still with important crossover. For example, you were my route into PG Brulure de Rose, and my bottle is almost empty now. : - )

Vanessa said...

Hi Angela,

Thanks for providing the BVs on this particular hobby horse!

olenska said...

Glad to see Diptyque & Parfumerie Generale squarely at the top of the list.... not least because I've got those two on my wishlist. Ha!

Vanessa said...

Hi olenska,

Aha - will keep an eye out for further crossover in our tastes!

Ines said...

Oh, I definitely want a bottle of Bois Naufrage - I don't think I can ever have enough figs. :)
I'm probably in the 10% overlap category. ;) I saw you have APOM listed among your top choices while I know I need a bottle of AplS. :)

Vanessa said...

Hi Ines,

You and I overlap with Bal d'Afrique, and Bois Naufrage is in similar vein of quietness and "hard to place"-ness, I'd say.

But you are spot on with your estimate - I do indeed have you in my 10% bracket, but didn't want to cause offence! So, if I ever don't comment on your reviews, it is because I don't want to sound like a cracked record every time, saying: "Haven't tried this, but it really doesn't sound like my kind of thing." Or did try it - wasn't for me."! : - )

Ines said...

I would never take offence because we don't have the same taste. :) Actually, I think of all the bloggers I know, we are the most divergent - we somehow go in the opposite directions and only rarely match our paths. Which is why I love reading your reviews, I never know what will come out of them. :)

Vanessa said...

Hi Ines,

"Vive la difference!" as they say. It is so funny that we both independently estimated the 10% overlap - that really tickled me. : - )

I think I am quite timid in my tastes, and for a perfume blogger that is quite unusual.

Vanessa said...

I'm not having much luck with these brackets, am I? : - )

JoanElaine said...

"RELEASES I DID NOT CARE FOR PARTICULARLY" - very diplomatic wording. I wish I had that ability. I either avoid saying anything negative or grunting like the Incredible Hulk.

I see L'Artisan Parfumeur Nuit de Tubéreuse on that list. The SA at a local boutique keeps showing it to me, insisting I smell it...I still don't care for it. I dont smell the tuberose. At all.

Vanessa said...

Hi JoanElaine,

That must have been one of my rare moments of tact, for which - as my friends will testify - I am not noted. : - )

Now I tried Nuit de Tubéreuse a full five times, and like you I didn't get the tuberose, but all manner of other strange things instead.

Anonymous said...

I'm coming back later to give this post the attention it deserves. I love the sound of your top 2!

Vanessa said...

Hi mixedbabygreens,

Glad you liked them - I sense they may be an unusual choice!