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What’s green, flying, and has no name?

A short recap of emerging trends from Esxence 2023

As my lucky fellow fragrance reporters are packing their bags on the way to Milan (including, rumor has it, Luca Turin, after a long and dire absence), let’s take a look at what emerged—at least for my hyperlexic brain—as a pattern in last year’s exhibit. 

(Not sure yet how this fits in with perfumery journalism; documentaries are few and far between, reviews are increasingly harder to distinguish from paid ads, and trends seem to mostly veer on the side of one-off, rather than reaching tipping points and universality. And as more markets, at different stages in their economic/ stylistic/ consumer-led product development enter the scene, the landscape—and its players—present more fragmented than ever.) 

I won’t spend much time on individual, gem-quality fragrances; there are plenty of trusty noses doing a swell of a job of it, and you’ll find some fantastic wrapups below, alongside my own few recommendations. 

Instead, let’s editorial this—here are some main themes from 2023 to (still) keep an eye on. 

1. The negative space

Negative space is not new; whole industries (advertising, fashion, and interior design, to name a few) made history on it; psychology is still in business on account  what’s lacking, literature is full of ellipsis, and all the better film awards are won on this deeply humane attraction towards guessing on nothingness.  To put it lightly, unless you’re consuming SNL or Drag Race camp, too much duh shapes the best content into a very meager brain morsel, making you scoff or come undone—and perfumery is no exception. Literally.

After a few mad years in which we were served indecent amounts of BS concepts and scammy marketing fragrance copy, the initial outliers of negative space (Bogue refusing to use ad talk on their site, Perfume Sucks revealing formula underbellies, the SF Moma Yves Béhar/fuseproject perfume bottle, ELDO's Rien), 2023 brought forth a few other interesting instances of no longer prepackaging the conveying of an emotion: 

  • Brand no more, an Italian brand with very little add clout but a very, very good fig concoction (go smell, it's called Fig/Frozen); Versatile, a straight-from the faucet, on-the-go offering

  • No-Name fragrance from Brera, noBody from Mayme?, Silence eloquent from Antinomie, etc.

As of now, there are over 20 perfumes I know of that are named "Untitled", and over 40k recent Instaposts using negative space in fragrance photography.

PREDICTION: like many other aspects of perfumery, negative space as a use of concept will stay—but be reserved to those prioritizing experience over expression.

2. On the mapamonde

This one is easy to understand, and simple to integrate in anyone's olfactive map, buyers and brands alike: perfumistas are happy to be served dreams of faraway lands, and for the makers geohistory is handy and plentiful: whether you yearn to go there, have been there, or are from there, destination inspiration works.

There never was, and never will it exist, a time when we run out of places to depict through smell—but last year international finally became literal, through a perfumery travel map complete with:

  • Fragrances: all of the Nissaba line, brands like Brera9, etc. Plus, of course, everything with "exotic" and "orient" in it, to the despair of those at the forefront of ationable change towards a more equitable industry (like Yosh Han, who rocks)

  • Hic Beauty Hotel or brands like No Borders

  • an ever-expanding roster of not-only-WEu brands and perfumers, some of which are to keep an eye on: Tobba, Toskovat, Parfum Buro, David Thibaud-Bourahla (I've probably said it before, Crystal d'Afrique is something to drown in), Catherine Omai, J-Scent (go try Hisui), Anfas, Jijide (with participation from Zimo Luo), Senyoko, Tola, Maison de l'Asie, Edit(h), etc.

PREDICTION: this, too, will stay—but we'll see small factions traveling inwards (think: timeline/ stages of life or self), or go micro (think: travel to my backyard, the next street over, a small trainstation in rural somewhere, etc.).

3. Science & tech

Not entirely a casual subject for me, this isn't, but since I'm drawn to nerding like nerds to, well, science, please allow me to bring forth a few points in which—if I understand perfumery positioning correctly—some brands are trying to achieve differentiation.

Now, there are 3 known directions in which a company can apply itself in order to get to market leadership: price (offer the lowest cost for value perceived), quality (of product, packaging, or processes), and focus (when the target audience is known so intimately that the offering and promotions are catering to precise specifications).

In this bit here, I'd like to point at:

a. products and processes like

  • Sustainability: Brand no more, Nissaba, Nout, Aemium all communicate narratives surrounding one or more of the following: using sustainable materials to create product and packaging, fair trade sourcing, equitable pay, inclusive hiring, organic certifications*, minimal resource usage (less plastic, lighter bottles, recycled cardboard), even profit sharing (Nissaba's business model, for example, includes reinvesting in the source areas, also used as main inspiration for their line)

  • Carbon-neutrality: Wa:it was my revelation—not necessarily for the product, Hito (which, to be fair, got lost alongside everything else in the thick clouds of Ambrox and all other paralyzingly strong molecules), but for the fact that, as far as I know, this is the only brand with traceability: they set out to be the first carbon-neutral brand, officially partnered with Cornell University for testing and development, and adjusted their processes until their every claim is defensible via scientific proof. The owner, Rafaella Grisa, is a kindred soul: blindly dedicated, painfully detailed, and too much a thinker to fluff up her game—so her message usually gets drowned.

  • Innovative and atypical formulations: Good water perfumes (At least that's what they led me to believe at the booth, that they're water-based, although I can't find any reference on formula except for one site that calls them "alcohol-free". I do wonder now), hyperconcentrations (40%+?? That the hell for?? How stunted is your discourse to want to pulverize every songbird—and typical humanoid—on a 5mi radius?!? Tempting to amp concentrations and potentators and charge twice as much, but COME ON, brands, DO. BETTER. The rest of us see you), oils gaining terrain, hair perfumes, linen fragrances.

b. data-supported segmentation and GTM (ex: youth-targeting brands like Rebel, on-the-go smaller bottle sizes (finally!!) from the likes of E.P.C., Dusita, Le Jardin Retrouve, etc.). PREDICTION: greenwashing! This area is about to become as shameless as the space where the cheapest molecules become "a noble tradition in precious woods". Everyone, in the next few years, will claim some sort of environmentally-aware, woke, or inclusive action. Beware.

4. Beauty & design

This section, fortunately, is easy on the heart and a relief to utter—for Ambrox and maltol are not yet everyone's lingua franca, the quest to pretty is not yet lost, balance is not entirely missing, and common sense, albeit rare, not totally gone.

Here are the mentionables holding the flag out for beauty:

  • For fragrance: Binet-Papillon, Violet, Carlotha Ray, Bienaime are still relative newcomers, all with classic lines following the precepts of French perfumery. (I know, I know, whyitgottabeFrench? But here we are, admitting, volens-nolens, to the merits of something, in our framework of study, well-made. They're well made. They're effortless and complete, non-offensive, easy to understand, safe. Impeccable work, and always, always welcome

  • For materials and/or note focus: y'all should take a look at Rosae Virtus (with rose-centered fragrances made in collaboration with a rosarian) and Olphactive Pharmacy (do yourself a favor and try their Tilia! A top solinote for me, if I ever met one)

  • For packaging: Rebel (best mouillettes, by far; also, on-target bottle design and packaging), and Step Aboard (urban pressured cans about which I've gushed before)

  • For concepting and booth presentation: Argentum. Great UX overall, from concept relay to the actual product you get matched with and beyond, to the deck of cratch-and-sniffs you take home for sampling. Great work

  • For displays: Un Jardin Retrouve, with brilliant original art by Cristian Marianciuc.

PREDICTION/hope: headspace for ethereal beauty (true tulip aroma, please start there).

5.The outliers

Every year, like in a marathon, we see bundles. Some are official (like the spiritual-themed group below), some are one-offs nobody knows what to do with, and some yet are a very special kind of visitor, as follows:

  • The esoteric bunch: companies like Rajani, Spiritum, Argentum, Scentology, Onyrico, Accendis, and many, many other brands, collections, or individual perfumes at Esxence and outside it, veered in the past few years towards the mystical; the inscrutable; the occult. There's no mystery to it: as people face mortality, they often turn to the gods for explanations, shared responsibility, and hope; Covid, with all it put us through, made us all look inside and upwards with intention, interest, and a propensity for searching for miracles. Some of us looked to extraneous civilizations (past or from far away), while some searched for angels, alchemies, and ethnomedicine; even staunch atheists got softer in their refusal, and allowed-with a sigh-an occasional soul-searching moment. Because we're all still fascinated with magic, and brands know it—so tread lightly when you go through them, as they're not all authentic in discourse; in fact, the distance between honorable mystical inspirations and speculative marketing is as grand as that between honest spirituality and an organized crusade: they may both talk about the heavens, but the scopes are on opposite sides on the principle-profit continuum. (A fantastic one: Soul Couture by the late Alessandro Brun. RIP)

  • Camp! If you don't do camp, please, look it up. You might find it contagiously delightful, and find some favorite people, too—Eau de Boujee, Perfume Sucks, and the entire brand and product line from Mayme? are good examples, grrrrl.

  • Brilliant, unapologetic perfumery that's not always boothed and wearing the exhibitor badge. Many scorn the perfumers or brand owners to use the event to self-promote; I think it's a perfectly legal, ethically acceptable for the Indies to join this way, catch some headwind, network, and offer expertise, artistry, and originality in return. If they make it, they, too, will probably grab a booth in the future; they're a sort of clients-in-waiting category for the tradeshow, an organic keeping-in-check for the brands exhibiting, and a very, very fun co-visitor for those of us who love to be shown around. It's where creativity is (still) unbridled and where trends can initiate. And, for me, they're the most fun part of the show. Included here:

    • Sultan Pasha Attars, always and forever. May the LT finally find you

    • and you, too, Miskeo!

    • Le Frag by Aga Lewandowska, a mental collection of wildly particular scents of a fantastically coherent esthetic

    • Angelos Créations Olfactives by Aggelos Balamis, a classically-informed collection of sensible and delicately calibrated scents

    • Karolina Stockhaus' collection created for the Aquanauts exhibit, a perfect (and finely executed!) piece to a brilliant multi-disciplinary art project

    • Zoologist.

That's a wrap for 2023. Looking forward to everyone's impressions.



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