Colognoisseur Best of 2021 Part 1: Overview

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A year ago, I thought things might have been more normal by this time. Instead, 2021 has been like 2020 in that the usual ways of doing fragrance business pre-pandemic have been altered. I was able to try 621 new perfumes this calendar year. I want to thank all the people out there who make that number possible. I haven’t set foot in a store this year. The brands and stores I correspond with were almost always forthcoming in getting samples to me. I couldn’t go out into the world, but it showed up in my mailbox daily. That was because of these behind-the-scenes people. Nothing that I wrote about this year would have been possible without them.

There will not be a lot of things I’ll want to keep from these last two years. One of them is the direct communication with the brands. Without all the normal large perfume expositions the Internet took their place. Teleconferences announcing new launches allowed for the entire creative team to be present for a worldwide audience. There were a couple weeks at the beginning of the fall when I had one every other day. It allows the word to be spread much more widely than in the past. I hope it continues long after. The best version was the Masque Milano/Milano Fragranze/Malbrum Advent Calendar. Every day from December 1st through the 25th a short video on Instagram Live discussed what was in the daily box. The creative directors and perfumers all took time out of their Holidays to take part. There is even more potential for this kind of interaction going forward.

Francis Kurkdjian

The biggest news of the year was the changing of the guard at Dior perfume. Francis Kurkdjian takes over from Francois Demachy. I am hoping M. Kurkdjian injects some sorely needed relevancy back into this esteemed brand.

If there is something I hope fades quickly it is the idea of “clean” perfumes. This doesn’t mean clean smelling perfumes. It is the anti-science snake oil being pushed by some brands which insist that perfume is dangerous unless it is “clean”. There is no evidence that anything in any commercially released perfumes is dangerous. Anyone who tells you differently is also trying to sell you something, which is almost always an indication of the validity of the claim.

An unfortunate trend that has returned is the ghosting of perfumers again. Brands want to have their owners/creative directors act as if they are also the perfumers. This practice effectively ended in 2000 with Frederic Malle putting the names of the perfumers front and center on the labels of every Editions de Parfums. I don’t think they can successfully put the ghost back in the bottle. I am going to make sure that I reveal the perfumers name every time I find out, especially if they don’t want me to.

One of the trends this year was a re-thinking about the ubiquitous inclusion of oud in perfumes. I thought at the beginning of the year I was over oud the way I am for rose. This year saw several fragrances use it in traditional ways employing the real thing. Others finally used the wide array of tools at their disposal to think of oud in the same abstract way any other natural material has been translated into perfume. 2021 has me excited for the future of oud.

One thing I enjoyed a lot was pointing people to the outstanding modestly priced perfumes being sold at Zara. Jo Malone, Jerome Epinette, and Alberto Morillas did fantastic work for the brand. It is the best kept secret at the mall. To have a place to tell newly enthusiastic perfume lovers to go have fun in, made me smile. Which is what any year of fragrance should be about.

I’ll be back tomorrow with my perfume, perfumer, creative director, and brand of the year. Followed by my Top 25 new perfumes of 2021 the day after that. I hope you’ll follow along.

Mark Behnke

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