Last weekend was a big deal for a small segment of perfume lovers, in the form of the 4th edition of ScentXplore, a hybrid event this year with the in-person component held in NYC. I wasn’t sure at first whether I would attend, because my impression was that it seemed more geared toward the Instagram and YouTube influencer crowd, but I enjoyed the games and panel discussions at the virtual event last year. During a moment of work stress a couple of months ago when I wanted to look forward to immersing myself in something organized that wasn’t work related, I decided to go, and my other half graciously agreed to come with me.
The anticipation was prolonged by standing in a long line outside the building waiting for the doors to open to those of us who weren’t press attendees. The waiting was compensated by being handed drink tickets at check-in, which we promptly used at the fragrant bar sponsored by Maxaroma. It was a fine idea to pair cocktails with perfumes by Precious Liquid (Iced Juniper) and Aaron Terence Hughes (Boss Bitch, Raw Cherry, and Notorious). The execution of the idea was a bit more challenging, as the bar area was very crowded and it was virtually impossible to sniff and sip at the same time. The drinks were all on the sweet side, and we liked the rum-based concoctions best.
The first scheduled in-person event was a masterclass by Parfums de Marly, featuring an “olfactive menu” of 10 perfumes. To follow along, you had to buy a discovery set for $50, which could be applied toward a purchase later. We decided to pass as I was not in the mood to buy another discovery set.
As Amouage was the Diamond Sponsor, they also held a masterclass, workshop, and “meet & greet” sessions with perfumers Alexis Grugeon, MacKenzie Reilly, and Cécile Zarokian over the 2 days. This masterclass did not include samples—rather, the new Odyssey Escape collection (launching in 2023) was introduced with blotters handed to each of us.
It starts with Lineage, which represents the desire to leave one’s current situation and embark on an odyssey. The fragrance has a salty aspect, although it focuses on frankincense. In fact, there was a major focus on frankincense at one point during the talks when we were invited to choose a piece of the resin from a bowl that was passed around, containing something like 12 different grades of frankincense! Each “tear” looked like powdered hard candy, and when the natural powder was rubbed off, the resin started to get sticky on the fingers.
Next is Search, created by perfumer Alexis Grugeon. Possibly my favorite from the series, it features the idea of a “black lemon,” elemi, frankincense, vetiver, guaiac wood, and “musky cade.” This is a citrus perfume in Amouage style, with depth in brightness and drying down into an enticing, smoky wood.
Then comes Guidance, with inspiration from the sirens that appear to the one seeking guidance on his odyssey. This feminine-leaning fragrance is quite intriguing as well, with notes of pear and hazelnut, floral heart, and vanilla-sandalwood base.
Finally, we arrive at Purpose, which feels more settled with bergamot, spices, frankincense, papyrus, saffron, and lots of anchoring wood.
The new attars were also available to try—all were quite beautiful, and I was taken in by Vanilla Barka, particularly because I am not generally a fan of vanilla scents. The secret might be its blending with tonka and… frankincense.
Most scheduled sessions started at least half an hour late, allowing plenty of time to explore the brands’ booths. Kajal greeted us with perfumed fabric flowers fashioned into rings—the first was Lamar, which smelled immediately like a piña colada to me and indeed features a prominent pineapple note before revealing a floral amber. This one was so strong that unfortunately I don’t remember what the other 3 I smelled were like, and the scent is mostly gone from the rings now.
Niche perfumeries The Fragrance Vault and Abaton had a wide range of perfumes on display; the latter also showcased their own line based on the chinotto, a kind of bitter orange: Chinotto Dark, Chinotto Gourmand, and the floral Fior di Chinotto.
Arquiste had their own table, featuring their perfumes including the new Indigo Smoke, which was a satisfying, dark lapsang souchong tea drying down into smoky incense. More amusing was the highly popular “VACATION” eau de toilette, developed in collaboration with the Vacation® sunscreen brand, and a corresponding sunscreen formulated as a Classic Whip in a whipped cream can.
Nez Éditions represented longform journalism at their booth, located opposite Amouroud and Kierin NYC. I had a nice chat with the reps, smelled the Nez 1+1 artist-perfumer collaboration fragrances that I hadn’t already, and begged for my beloved Hongkong Oolong to be brought back, only to be assured that I wasn’t the only one asking.
The online perfumery Twisted Lily had a fairly large presence. I took the opportunity to try Marc-Antoine Barrois Encelade and can smell what the fuss is about—it is a pretty powerful and distinctive smoky leather.
If only I could spend some time with each of these perfumes on their own… but none of the booths seemed to be providing samples. We were each given a paper bag at check-in with a small bag of fragranced pine cones from Scents of Wood. The intent was to visit each booth and get our goodies “trick-or-treat style.” However, this part turned out to be a disappointment, and someone else mentioned that virtual attendees received only maybe 10 samples in the mail (compared with 25 or so last year).
The last portion of Day 1 was a set of 2 Q&A roundtables moderated by hosts Max Forti and Ashley Santiago. The first session invited creators of fragrance and creators of content about fragrance to discuss challenges faced by each, how “niche” was defined, etc. The second featured a similar mixed panel to explore what brought each to fragrance and what was important to them. Sustainability was a hot topic, as was brand differentiation and the ability to connect with other people through perfumes.
As I alluded to earlier, I am not a press person, and this is a very unofficial snapshot of my own experiences at this year’s ScentXplore. Any highlight or lack thereof is purely based on my own attention to certain things in a limited span of time.
The Parfums de Marly Olfactive Experience masterclass was on its second run, and this time we sat and listened without the discovery kit to follow along. An associate sprayed Kalan on the hands of everyone that offered them. We were told to smell it right away and then forget about it, to come back to it later. Kalan was spicy, fruity, and sweet—I couldn’t help sniffing my hand again and again before we were given the okay, and it developed into something like cherry or almond, a bit salty as well. The spicy, salty texture remained into the more woody, ambery drydown.
We were also handed blotters sprayed with Haltane, described as “luminous, fresh, woody & gourmand.” I found this description quite accurate, with clary sage and bergamot in the opening, praline and saffron in the heart, and a woody base.
Michael Edwards dialed in from Paris to educate us on a history of perfumery as some background to his Perfume Legends books. After answering a few audience questions about the olfactory classification system, he was presented with a Lifetime Achievement award by host Max Forti.
We explored the booths a bit more, visiting The Scent House, a distributor of many brands that are sold by Maxaroma and other niche perfumeries. I came the closest to falling in love with a perfume on this trip with The Merchant of Venice Rosa Moceniga—mostly for the gorgeous bottle covered in outlines of red roses. It’s a very “pink”-smelling rose, with some vintage soliflore tones at times, but soon develops into a richer, more voluptuous, sweeter, woodier, musky rose.
Amouroud gave us a tour of some very approachable oud fragrances, starting with the fruity Oud du Jour, which is designed to change the minds of people who think they don’t like oud—and I imagine it works; it really is a friendly oud. Even the stronger offerings leaned more woody than animalic to my nose.
We visited a different part of the Twisted Lily tables and smelled the Atelier Materi range, each showcasing a raw material. All were very pleasant and approachable. Here, I was offered a sample, at last: Cacao Porcelana. I’m always looking for a good cacao fragrance, so am glad to be able to try this.
Finally, for the award show, the audience was invited to vote for the finalists in 3 categories. I did not participate in the initial round because I am not familiar enough with most of the nominees, nor in the final round because I am (gasp!) not on Instagram, which was the voting platform. Winners were:
- Sustainability: Amouage
- Brand Concept & Portfolio: Amouage
- Brand Approachability: Parfums de Marly
- Rising Star Perfumer: Aaron Terence Hughes
- Fragrance of the Year: Opus XIV Royal Tobacco (Amouage)
- Most Impactful Content Creator: Sebastian Jara (The Perfume Guy)
All in all, I am glad we were able to explore new perfumes and get to know some brands better, including some of the faces behind them.