Best Men’s Fragrances of 2011-2012-2013 (Better Late Than Never)

Self Portrait, Dick Ket

Did I really skip 2011 and 2012 when it came to writing my annual best-of-men’s-perfumes post? (Wow…and the world kept turning — imagine that!) I’m two years behind so today I'll catch up by picking my favorite men's fragrances from 2011, 2012 and 2013 (you can see my picks for 2009 and 2010 here). Some of these perfumes are unisex, but with a masculine edge (to my nose anyway). Though I missed my fair share of fragrance releases, I've still smelled tons of perfume product in the last three years. I don’t feel that a masterpiece escaped my attention. 

Every year, I tend to write about men’s fragrances that I either “love” or “hate” (using those verbs with feather-weight intent since I don’t cry over favorite perfumes gone missing or reformulated, and I don’t gnaw on my fingers when I encounter awful perfumes). I’m still, I believe, a Perfumista, but I've put perfume in its proper place (I don't get upset if I can't try every new fragrance that arrives on the scene, or even in my local shops). I've started making a dent in my perfume stash by simply using what I already own. I bought four bottles of scent in 2013: all on sale or purchased at online auctions, and every one a vintage formulation of a really old perfume.

Here goes; I've quoted myself below (with some tweaks to text) to make the process a tad easier (and quicker).

Best of 2011

2011 was my year for loving food-y perfumes:

Arquiste Anima Dulcis is warm and toasty — with a fresh-from-the-oven aroma. In fact, I’ll take that one step further and say the perfume is almost burning…as if one has made incense sticks out of a spice cake.

Erik Kormann Eau de Fröhliche begins with the scents of  dark chocolates filled with lemon cream and raspberry jam. The fragrance takes its time in shedding the sweet-shop vibe, but slowly I detect a touch of spice and a hazy, sheer wood note. Eau de Fröhliche becomes more incense-y as it wears on skin; I never thought I’d like frankincense mixed with chocolate and fruit, but it works.

When I wore Frapin 1697 for the first time, its burnt sugar and rum reminded me of an ancien régime version of Idole de Lubin (1697’s notes are darker, rougher and more infused with booze). 1697 gets points for using WHITE musk in a non-laundry-room manner.

L’Occitane Immortelle de Corse smells of maple syrup, honey and black tea leaves; there’s also a hay/dried straw aroma that intensifies and becomes a tad musty (pleasantly so). In mid-development, Immortelle de Corse is “glazed” with a wonderful brown sugar (almost molasses) note. In the extreme dry-down, Immortelle de Corse smells of benzoin ashes on buttered toast.

Trussardi Essenza del Tempo provides amusing twists and turns; its vinegar, olive oil, coffee, and carrot notes are handled subtly and remain close to skin (those around you will NOT think you smell like a ristorante or lunch).

Self Portrait, Dick Ket

Best of 2012

Memo Luxor Oud opens with a powerful fruit accord, accent not on citrus but on red fruits (a smoky strawberry aroma). A mellow, low-impact rose note tinges the fruit — supplying a hint of flowers. Luxor Oud’s incense accord arrives quickly and a pleasant smokiness settles over the ever-present, non-diminishing berries and roses. As for the oud/agarwood in Luxor Oud — it’s in miniscule quantity.

Bright, floral-woody, see-through, happy Cartier Déclaration d’un Soir is far from the grungy spice-fest of original Déclaration. The sweetish rose at the heart of Déclaration d’un Soir is “heartless” — it’s as if you took a rose, removed its super-floral-scented center and left its drier, aromatically airier edges intact.

Humiecki & Graef Blask is a strange perfume creature, as much an old-fashioned spicy floral (with a sheen of powdery aldehydes and a tropical plumeria-like note in the base) as it is a modern woody oud (the “walnut wood” in the base is nutty and slightly sweet).

Kinski gives a performance (with the accent on the final act); it presents ‘states’ of excitement (strong pepper/juniper and cassis), bliss (a spicy floral accord with some ginger-rose and a magnolia-like note), meditation (benzoin), and lazy comfort (smoky marijuana and vetiver — with hints of cedar, patchouli, damp vegetal musk and moss). 

Etat Libre d’Orange The Afternoon of a Faun goes on “liquor-y” — with rich citrus, a touch of jasmine, and lots of immortelle (augmented with whiffs of rosy incense). The Afternoon of a Faun also presents sweet, woody myrrh accented with pepper; its base notes have a waxy sheen, as if the lingering immortelle had been dipped in beeswax. This perfume has haunted me for almost two years; I’m sure to break down and buy it…maybe for my birthday this month.

Viktor & Rolf Spicebomb opens with sharp (cool) citrus, almost pine-y, tinged with pepper. Immediately the fragrance “warms” to reveal a streamlined and well-blended progression of non-gourmand cinnamon (included in the perfect amount), delicate saffron-leather and tobacco notes. Spicebomb’s tobacco (somewhat like the tobacco in Serge Lutens Fumerie Turque and Diptyque Volutes) is ample, diffuse and elegant; it comes to the fore accompanied by a spark of chili. 

Jardins d’Ecrivains George starts off with a dark, polished vibe; it’s heavy on delicious-smelling Peru balsam and myrrh with a touch of citrus; there’s a soupçon of an acidic/sharp aroma one sometimes detects in old papers…and dried plants…and in hawthorn blossoms. I also detect aromas of waxed wood and lit beeswax candles — with their whiff of honey and sweet smoke.  If that's not enough, add the scents of “woody” black coffee beans, sweet, natural-smelling tobacco, neroli and heliotrope. Delightful, yet its namesake.

Self Portrait, Dick Ket

Best of 2013

Union Celtic Fire starts with the hot scent of thick-rich-spicy BBQ sauce…with added smears of sooty birch, “oily” smoke and charred evergreen wood (perhaps fueling the barbecue pit?) As Celtic Fire dries on skin, I detect a smell that reminds me of a still-warm hearth, full of the ashes of once-sap-rich logs. If you love smoke and dense, “primitive” incense aromas — coal-black perfume notes — try it.

Naomi Goodsir Bois d'Ascèse conjures one of my favorite places — northern New Mexico; the fragrance creates a dry, austere, pungent scene. Willa Cather was on my mind as I wore this fragrance and I think a tiny vial of Bois d'Ascèse should accompany every volume of Death Comes for the Archbishop — Cather’s New Mexico novel set in Santa Fe, Ranchos de Taos, and Acoma, Isleta and Laguna pueblos.

Maître Parfumeur et Gantier Ambre Doré opens with the aromas of vibrant oud, saffron-scented leather and “green” styrax. Ambre Doré’s character is tougher than most amber perfumes. As Ambre Doré’s opening burns off there’s a musky barnyard moment or two (we’re talking a dry-manure-in-the-distance aroma) followed by the scent of bananas steeped in turpentine. I needed a new amber perfume for my collection, and this one just won the contest over many other contenders (it's my first purchase of 2014).

Perfume years are like dog years; time accumulates quickly — the period from birth to old age is brief. Good news: “elderly” Giorgio Armani Eau Pour Homme (30 years old!) enjoyed a respectable re-do in 2013. As I “analyzed” Eau Pour Homme, I realized no one note or accord is astonishing or unusual, but somehow, the perfume (dare I say it?) captivates me. The whole of Eau Pour Homme surpasses its parts.

I love the fact that La Via del Profumo Milano Caffè is NOT a smooth, predictable, culinary take on coffee and chocolate, but more of an herbal/spice-coffee-chocolate perfume “tonic.”

Finally, some honorable mentions: good perfumes reviewed by my comrades in scent, Angie and Robin: the Coach Leatherware series and Comme des Garçons + Monocle Scent Three: Sugi; and, for the bottle alone, the 160th Anniversary Guerlain Bee Bottle (only 32 were made, decorated with 24 carat gold — at $16,250 this bottle will not, too bad!, reside in my home).

Here’s to 2014: may the men get some good, no, GREAT new perfumes this year! 

Note: all images via Wikimedia Commons; Self-Portrait by Dick Ket (thanks to writing this post, I "discovered" Ket for the first time).

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  1. Oh, I really want to try La Via del Profumo Milano Caffè. Thanks for the reminder.

    • Kevin says:

      Breathes, you’re welcome!

  2. Merlin says:

    Many now on my list to try – despite being a girl! Ambre Dore, just being one…

    And Comme de Garcons black did not make the grade?

    • Kevin says:

      Merlin…Black was fine, but it didn’t “grab” me.

  3. relleric says:

    Great article, as always. SOTD: L’Homme Sage (Divine); haven’t worn it in a long time, boy have I missed it! :)

    • Kevin says:

      Relleric…thanks; I haven’t worn that scent in ages either.

  4. nozknoz says:

    I had not heard of Ket, either; thanks for bringing him to our attention!

    I haven’t tried all of these, but Frapin 1697 is my fav gourmand. To me, it’s like a spicy creme brulee, enjoyed with a cognac. (I have the original LE absolu de parfum.) I really want to try MPG Ambre Dore and Milano Caffe – presto! And I wish Memo was easier to access here.

    Did you not care for Parfums MDCI Chypre Palatin?

    • Kevin says:

      Noz…really wish I could find a book on Ket…I did find one and it’s in Dutch…but bought it anyway for the pictures. Chypre Palatin…certainly well made but not a favorite of mine.

      • nozknoz says:

        Hah, I’ve done that, too (buying a book I can’t read for the pictures). Someday Google (or other) translation programs will be good enough to translate it for you, anyway. :-)

        • Bela says:

          Nope. No machine will ever be able to replace a good – human – translator. (Guess what I do for a living. LOL!)

          • Kevin says:

            Bela…so true…I often just use translation services when I need a good laugh or need a convoluted text. Ha!

          • nozknoz says:

            Bela, I’m sure you are right in terms of a good translation of anything with literary value. Nonetheless, I recently heard of computers being used to write technical news articles, such as simple articles on business trends. Depressing!!

          • hajusuuri says:

            So true…the etymology of my screenname is a case in point. I wanted a nice name to mean smell great. I used google translate to see which language yielded something that had a nice ring to it. Voila – “Haju Suuri” = smell great in Finnish. A Finn commented in Kafkaesque’s blog that the word choices basically translated to The Big Stink :-)

          • Merlin says:

            TheBigStink would make a fabulous name for a blog:)

  5. Janice says:

    I’m surprised at how many of these I have tried. I’ve been wanting to try Ambre Dore since your review of it—just ordered a sample now after reading this!

    • Kevin says:

      Janice…hope you like it.

  6. Ari says:

    It’s so frustrating that the wonderful Afternoon of a Faun is only available in 100 ml, since it’s so powerful that I would never get through even 50 ml.

    • Kevin says:

      Ari…that is what’s kept me from purchasing for so long.

  7. chandler_b says:

    I can’t find the Eau Armani Pour Homme anywhere, I always ask and get told “No we don’t carry that but would like to try Aqua Di Gio?”…
    I need to try many of these, just hard to find down here!

    • Kevin says:

      Cb…I’ve seen it at Neiman Marcus … Not sure about Nordstrom or Macy’s.

  8. hajusuuri says:

    Nice list. I still want to try La Via del Profumo Milano Caffè. I went to the website immediately to order and I got distracted with soooo many choices that I ended up abandoning my overflowing cart. I’ll have to exercise restraint the next time I attempt to place an order!

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