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Perfume picks: Best and worst of 2013

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2013 has been yet another year of far too many new launches, a small percentage of which I have been able to try; indeed, I would need to have a clone army in order to do so. As always, there were some outstanding new products and many that were mediocre to poor.

There is still a huge disconnection between the mainstream fragrance world, which includes most of the bigger luxury brands, and niche/artisan perfumery, which is where most of the best work is being done today. Fortunately for me that is what my main focus was on this year, and I expect that it will continue that way until the big fragrance and cosmetic companies stop insulting our intelligence with bad perfume. (I am not holding my breath for this to occur.)

Let's begin with the bad, and this is just one example: I had high hopes for Estée Lauder's new Modern Muse. Over time, the Lauder scents for both women and men have been of consistently good quality and if not ground-breaking (although some have been, i.e. Aramis and Azurée) they have at least been wearable and well done. When I tested Modern Muse, I could hardly believe that its interesting opening phase lasted exactly thirty seconds before it faded into a listless, wispy fruity-floral. I tried it again – nothing. It wasn't exactly dreadful, just very disappointing. Apparently all the money went into the ad budget instead of the bottle. Some people liked this a lot, but it did not impress me at all. Lather, rinse, repeat with most of the other department store fragrance launches of 2013; I can hardly tell them apart.

Aspirational pricing is another thing that annoys me, and it's only getting worse. The pioneer in snobbery pricing years ago was Clive Christian, and now others have followed suit. The prestigious Xerjoff brand puts out some very good perfumes, but there is a limit to what people will pay unless they are doing it just to show off; their aptly named XJ Richwood is very good, but is it really $645 for 100 ml good? I love their XJ Damarose myself, but for that price I will never own a bottle. Other luxury brands such as Tom Ford have raised their prices steeply. (Even established luxury brand Amouage seems like a bargain compared to some of these, with prices in the $200-$300 range.) Many fine perfumes can be found for a fraction of these prices, and many of them are superior to the expensive ones. This makes it even more important to try before you buy, either in the store (and giving it enough time to react with your skin) or by ordering samples by mail.

Speaking of annoying, can they please stop already with the flankers of flankers of flankers trend? I lose track of what's what easily enough as it is without trying to figure out if the Brand X Eau Fraiche Legère Sport Blue Aqua Limited Holiday Edition Noir Intense is something I should even care about. Most of the time, the answer is a resounding no.

Choosing the worst packaging of the year is sometimes a difficult decision, but this time around it was a no-brainer. One of the most shameless celebrity scents ever features the images of not one person (à la Paris Hilton), but all five members of the teen heartthrob band One Direction, whose well-timed release meant to capitalize on their fame is called Our Moment. Let's hope that the name refers to how long we will be subjected to looking at this on the shelves. Shockingly (not!) the perfume inside is an overly sweet and synthetic fruity-floral like a thousand others.

So what was good about 2013? Lots of things, but you have to know where to look. Next time I will list the highlights of what made it an outstanding year for fragrance fans.

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