Esxence 2024 – Best of Show

2024 . 03 . 28 | written by Ermano Picco

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The 14th edition of Esxence – The Art Perfumery Event as usual has been a blast of new perfumes to discover from both well-established and upcoming brands from countries that only recently joined this segment, redrawing the niche perfumery map to wider borders. This year’s inspiration METAMORPHOSIS perfectly reflects the deep changes this market is undergoing. First the impressive growth in terms of number of brands and launches per year that sum up to a +970% since 2003 as pointed out by Clayton Ilolahia, Evaluation & Communication Manager of Fragrances of the World in his talk “Emerging trends and revisiting the definition of niche fragrances for 2024”. Another ever-changing aspect is communication where the first flush of Gen Z influencers that shambolically sprung out in the pandemic is now at a turning point, while everybody is already wondering who’s next to channel perfumery to Gen Alpha.

An evidence of this metamorphosis is the venue at the third floor of MiCo – Milano Convention Center, the hugest ever guesting 360 brands (of which 121 from Italy), but the most tangible sign that niche perfumery has become popular (and perhaps it’s time to dismiss niche and find another naming for this market) are the 12.000 visitors, of which most were perfume lovers that stood with their umbrella under the pouring rain for hours to enter the show on Saturday for a few hours.

Given that it is humanly impossible to visit even half of the booths and smell everything in four days, the first litmus test for ongoing trendy molecules consists in smelling the air as you enter the show the last day. While only a few years ago one could almost slice the norlimbanol and oud (both natural and reconstructed) cake, the 2024 confectionery is all about kicking ambroxan, amberXtreme, evernyl, and ethylmaltol much in the crystal-candy signature of Maison Francis Kurkdjian Baccarat Rouge that after almost 10 years has become evidently a classic. After the GCMS of the status quo though, let me get now through the emerging trends I spotted through the booths.

Solar Florals
Since the early days of modern beauty industry, the introduction of salicilates in skincare as one of the very first UV protection methods went hand in hand with their introduction in perfumes for their diffusive petal glow. Hard to tell what came first, the chicken or the egg, but this instantly made the solar notes archetype loaded of outdoors beach life, holidays, and carefree spirit. On the other hand, after the pandemic years, this fragrant escape perhaps brings also the “protective” side of solar screens as an unconscious self-care vibe. Right at the first booths, Cristian Cavagna introduces the fifth tuberose Bianca Forte (Arturetto Landi) in his line pouring the signature tropical green “Musa” accord in a solar coconut milk pot for a glowing trail. At the facing booth the Masque Milano was busy showing the three new introductions to Le Donne di Masque line. Relaxing and pampering like dolce far niente in Bora Bora in a bottle, the new Vaiana (Mackenzie Reilly) is the perfect cocktail of lime, coconut and sunkissed skin glossed by monoi oil. Un bel amour d’eté, the name says it all about the new Parfum d’Empire creation by Marc-Antoine Corticchiato that renders the warmth of tanned skin with heady Tahitian gardenia in full bloom and the human touch of cumin to instantly fall in love with it. Don’t be fooled by the name, for the latest Isabey creation Rue de la Paix (Patrice Revillard) is a fragrant ticket to fly from the famous street neaby Place Vendôme to warmer places surrounded by heady florals at sunset. From exotic islands to the more aromatic mediterranean islands, the new Parfumeurs du Monde Terre de Soleil (Stéphanie Bakouche) conveys the Corsican sunblessed coasts, a nice counterpart to their top seller, the sun-laded tiaré of Blanc de Chine (Patrice Révillard). Whilst shifting from white flowers to mimosa, the solar sensation stands still getting warmer like honey leaking on skin in Frassaï Dormir al sol (Sleeping in the sun by Irina Burlakova) that dries down to a comforting powdery veil.

Cristian Cavagna
Un bel amour d'eté, Parfum d'Empire
Le donne di Masque, Masque Milano
Dormir al sol, Frassaï

Joyful incense
In such complicated and dizzying world we are living, it is no wonder that incense usually connected to meditation and spirituality is back on track as a trendy inspiration. Stripped off its churchy and brooding allure, incense shows now its exciting mineralcy as well as its vegetal sparkle bringing energy and joy thanks to pairing with vibrant spices, citrus and stimulating fruits. The best example of this trend at Esxence is for sure Jacques Fath Encens Copal (Jean-Christophe Herault) that shapes around incense an uplifting aromatic composition where the chewy freshness of mastic and citrus notes is smoothed by the comforting mellowness of hazelnut and iris. Incense is not only related to calmness and self-balance, but also to celebrations, and that’s why Celebration by independent perfumer Christele Jacquemin pairs a good amount of silvery incense with the grassy brilliance of galbanum smoothed down by the yummy richness of beeswax and cocoa beans for an unusual festive delicacy. How could a master of incenses like Bertrand Duchaufour not join the party? Victoria from Franco-Himalayan brand Hima Jomo presented me the brand-new Khullu (that’s the local name of yak wool similar to cashmere) where meditative incense is warmed up by an intricate motif with warm spices and bouclé woods that instantly made it my favorite of the recent four launches of the house. Another youthful interpretation comes from the Step Aboard Chicago Collection and it’s named Silver Cloud (B. Duchaufour) after Anish Kapoor’s Cloud Gate. To render its mirroring convexity the metallic facets of incense are boosted here by lavender and icy juniper for an avantgarde modern fougère. Olfactive Studio latest collections starts from incense, a note already present in the line in more woody and opulent offers, exalted in Loving Sense for its uplifting verticality thanks to burst of mouthwatering Madagascan blue ginger, cardamom, and warm spices.

Jacques Fath Encens Copal
Hima Jomo
Step Aboard Chicago Collection

Reviving classics
While the meticulous pursue of safety in perfumery has resulted in many restrictions, this on the other hand fostered the search for innovative raw materials (mostly from sustainable and conscious sourcing) that tremendously expanded the perfumer’s palette in the last years. This also inspired perfumers to revisit the fundamental themes of perfume history, to say the classics painting them in new colors.
For too long relegated as the dusty smell of the early XX century, violet flowers are nowadays living a new spring with a comeback in juicy bouquet or as a soliflore. That’s the case of Meo Fusciuni Viole Nere (Giuseppe Imprezzabile) playing the earthy and boozy floral debauchery, or at the opposite side of the spectrum the new Le Jardin Rétrouvé Violette Kew (Maxence Moutte) with its outdoorsy and inviting prettiness all about small flowers on a warm sandalwood bed. Another classic unfairly neglected is carnation that’s worth revisiting for its mysterious range of green, floral, vanillic, spicy, and even smoky hues. The best one smelled in years is for sure the all-natural fragrance Philtre by Hiram Green. Inspired by the love potion joining Tristan and Isolde forever, Philtre first opens with an intensely vegetal and peppery burst to settle on skin to a carnal leathery floral balm to die for.

Meo Fusciuni
Philtre by Hiram Green

Parfum pour femme
In the very beginning niche perfumery arose to set perfumers and fragrance creators free from the diktats of marketing shaping perfumery in the late 1970’s and 1980s, with the aim to offer to the public an alternative to the mainstream. Therefore, it was born genderless as a statement of independence. Nowadays that the unisex offer is huge, and communication (and marketing) strategies are the standard, we can see a glance of further segmentation, with perfume collections specifically targeted to women.
If memory serves in 2020 first came Le Donne of Masque Milano with creations bearing feminine names concocted by female perfumers. Along with the previously mentioned Vaiana, the recently introduced Catherine (Caroline Dumur), an intoxicating green floral loaded with jasmine sambac and tuberose inspired by Catherine Deneuve wearing the famous Saint Laurent Robe Smoking, and Diana (Vanina Muracciole) that embodies in a woody, vegetal, and intensely musky fragrance the myth of the Hunter Goddess.
The latest joining the party is Olfactive Studio creative director Céline Verleur who teamed up with parfumeure Cécile Zarokian for the Feminité Collection. The above-mentioned Loving Sense is joined by Huggy Mauve, the easy pleaser of the line dwelling upon a youthful orange blossom-marshmallow accord, and Sister Oud (sounding like sisterhood) that perfectly fits the current wave of graced ouds with a pinch of Oud Assam into a burgundy feminine rose.

Fragrance manufacturers getting local
The bourgeoning of niche perfumery in the last decade has caught the eye of big luxury groups always ready to cherry-pic brands with global potential as in the recent case of Manzanita Capital — whose portfolio includes Diptyque, Space NK, Malin+Goetz and Susanne Kaufmann — that acquired a majority stake in the Brooklyn-based fragrance brand D.S. & Durga. Last but not least, this scenario also sparkled a new trend for fragrance houses. On July 2020 Symrise Symrise created L’Appartement Etoile to re-conceptualize fragrance development as an agile and collaborative creation process offering an intimate, inviting ambiance with a breathtaking view of the Arc de Triomphe. Mane closely followed this approach a couple of years later applying this smart approach in Spain, where Jerôme Di Marino is the resident lab perfumer of the Mane Lab in Barcelona. On March 7th 2024 the Milanese headquarters of Mane opened their doors for a party night in their brand-new lab — turned into a greenhouse filled with typical Italian citrus and aromatic plants, and amazing raw materials obtained from them — that will be led by the newly hired perfumer Cristiano Canali. Last but not least, if Atelier Fragranze Milano was established as a family company with a small lab directed by perfumer Luca Maffei pursuing a collaborative creative approach, in recent years it grew up thanks to a fruitful collaboration with perfumer Antoine Lie, and will furtler develop thanks to a son of art that joined them just a couple of weeks ago, the young perfumer Sebastien Cresp that Luca introduced to me at Esxence.

Olfactive Studio, Feminité Collection
Mane party
Ermano Picco and Cristiano Canali

This latest trend is hopefully here to stay as a propeller for creativity, giving small independent companies easy access to talented professionals and innovative top notch raw materials, and we perfume lovers definitely look forward to this!