Colognoisseur Best of 2020 Part 3: The Top 25 New Perfumes of 2020 and One Extra Award

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To keep this list in perspective, I tried 634 new perfumes since January 1, 2020. That is about a third of all new releases. Nobody can try them all. I enjoy the winnowing down to produce this list. I usually make the hard decisions on which perfumes make the Top 25 without resorting to ties or other ways of expanding the list. Except 2020 presented me with a dilemma like no other. After struggling with how to resolve it I just thought I’d come up with a fun way of recognizing the problem. The list is going to start off with a new one-time only award.

Yaas Queen!

Perfume Queen of 2020: Dawn Spencer Hurwitz of DSH Perfumes– The pandemic affected the industry in such variable ways. In Ms. Hurwitz’s case it was the catalyst to a year of remarkable creativity. She released 32 new perfumes this year. I reviewed eight and I’m only hitting 25% just on her. She has always been prolific, but this year there was an extra inspiration in her collection. In my case she connected with me on an emotional level more consistently than anyone ever has. Read my reviews of Tea and Charcoal, Adrenaline and Scorched Earth, or Couverture d’Hiver to find examples. Her years of experience also translate into a familiarity with certain materials like iris. She released an Iris Trilogy of which I reviewed L’Or(ris) and Man Root. I never got around to writing about her Frida Kahlo inspired set or any of her Heirloom Elixirs. Each of them was worthy of it but it would have turned this blog into “DSH-onoisseur”. So consider this a cheat as you won’t find these perfumes in the list below, but they surely do belong. For 2020 DSH has her own category.

The Top 10 (Perfume of the Year Candidates)

10. Amouage Meander– Young perfumer Mackenzie Reilly showed she could be one of the new noses for the new Amouage under creative director Renaud Salmon.

9. Frassai El Descanso– Creative director Natalia Outeda releases a series of perfumes of her native Argentina. This fragrance of wide-open wheat fields is like nothing else this year.

8. Puredistance Rubikona- Creative director Jan Ewoud Vos wanted a perfume expression of red. Perfumer Cecile Zarokian made one with a faux-gourmand accord in the base which was amazing.

7. Hiram Green VivaciousHiram Green has added violet to his impressive collection of all-natural florals. Another standout from a line replete with them.

6. Masque Milano Le Donne di Masque MadeleineAlessandro Brun and Riccardo Tedeschi asked perfumer Fanny Bal to create their favorite Paris tearoom as a perfume. She returned a confection with a tuberose center.

5. Rasei Fort Cielito LindoRasei Fort laid down an audacious marker to the best gourmand of 2020 early on. Nobody risked more within the genre. Nobody reaped the rewards of taking those chances more.

4. Aftelier Violet AmbrosiaMandy Aftel adds violet to an aged version of broom flower. The result is like nothing I’ve tried featuring this floral.

3. April Aromatics Lotus RisingTanja Bochnig also broke out her special materials with two sources of aged lotus. It formed the lushest floral of the year.

2. A Lab on Fire Freckled and Beautiful– I’ve been waiting for the first great transparent floral gourmand. Perfumer David Apel has set the standard for the future.

  1. Shalini Iris LumiereThe longer explanation can be found in Part 2. The simple one is it is the best iris perfume of a year which had a lot of excellent ones.

The Rest of the Top 25 in Alphabetical Order

Abel Cyan Nori– Perfumer Isaac Sinclair wraps soft musk in a sheet of nori.

Berceuse Allegretto 7.2Antonio Gardoni finds the rhythm.

Cartier Pur KinkanMathilde Laurent makes a fragile citrus bubble which is compelling because of it.

Estee Lauder Beautiful AbsoluMackenzie Reilly boldly edits the original Beautiful into a modern version.

Gallivant BukharaRalf Schwieger puts iris under his magnifying glass.

Imaginary Authors A Whiff of WaffleconeJosh Meyer makes a high-quality salted caramel ice cream treat.

Jazmin Sarai FayoumDana El Masri made one of the most unique accords of the year as she takes you into a pottery shop at the oasis.

L’Artisan Couleur Vanille– The first salt air and vanilla release of the year.

Maher Olfactive Tempo Rubato– Shawn Maher shows off his near limitless potential in a perfume of changes built around iris.

Maria McElroy for American Perfumer Desert Rouge– One of two releases for Dave Kern’s American Perfumer store. Maria McElroy returns to the desert and her childhood memories of pastry.

Nishane Nanshe– Perfumer Cecile Zarokian puts on a masterclass on how to construct a powdery accord.

Roberto Greco Porter sa Peau– Not for the faint of heart. I didn’t know I wanted a perfume which captured the post-coital milieu. Rodrigo Flores-Roux gave it to me.

Shawn Maher for American Perfumer Madame ChouteauShawn Maher told a glorious story of his hometown history in bold perfumed calligraphy strokes.

Stephane Humbert Lucas 777 Isra & Miraj– This is a perfume that should be a train wreck. Stephane Humbert Lucas gave me a spiritual experience instead.

Zoologist Musk Deer– Everyone wanted a skanky musk. Victor Wong and Pascal Gaurin throw a cleverly evolving soft pillowy musk in its place. They made the right choice.

The Rest of the 2020 Short List

4160 Tuesdays Dark QueenSarah McCartney gloriously colors outside her boundaries.

A Lab on Fire A Blvd. Called Sunset– A dry leather on a Santa Ana wind.

Aether Arts Perfume Dia de Muertos– Tropical trick or treating.

Beaufort Terror and Magnificence– An old church full of smoke and history.

Bogue Douleur!2– I hated it. I admire it to death.

Maher Olfactive TreacheryShawn Maher goes really big.

Courreges 2060 Cedar PulpFanny Bal’s 21st century cologne.

DS & Durga Jazmin Yucatan– A night with the Aztecs

Etat Libre D’Orange Exit the King– Soapy and uniquely so.

Ignacio Figueras Palm Beach– An afternoon watching the polo ponies

Laboratorio Olfattivo Mandarino– A joyful interpretation of mandarin.

Lazarus Douvos Rose 1845– The most interesting rose of the year.

Maher Olfactive Orris Forest– Stepping stones to iris.

Maison D’Etto Macanudo– The exhilaration of being on horseback

Maison Sybarite 720– The best of a new brand.

Maison Tahite Sel_Vanille– Another new brand working on a salt air and vanilla construct.

Masque Milano Le Donne di Masque Dolceaqua– Another intelligent transparent floral gourmand

Masque Milano Le Donne di Masque Petra– This is the first Masque gourmand perfume.

Masque Milano Ray-flection– Mimosa puffballs on a river of honey.

Monique Lhuiller– Best mainstream floral of 2020

NEZ Hong Kong Oolong A history lesson told through tea.

NEZ Folia– The smell of wet cardboard isn’t supposed to be appealing.

Olfactive Pharmacy BetulaMark Buxton’s interpretation of birch is fabulous.

Olfactive Studio Iris Shot– The best of the three Sepia Collection releases this year.

Zoologist Koala– Hanging out in an Australian treetop munching eucalyptus leaves.

That’s a wrap for 2020.

You can find my overview of the year here.

You can find who I named Perfume, Perfumer, Creative Director, and Brand of the Year.

Thanks to everyone involved in allowing me to keep writing this entire year.

Mark Behnke

The New Amouage

I have always mentioned Amouage as advanced style perfumery. Under the creative direction of Christopher Chong the perfumes were bold creative efforts. I was along for the ride with most all of them. They were complex, sensually satisfying fragrances. I could spend weeks dissecting a new release because there was something there to be pored over. I was the desired audience. The question I had was how big a group I was part of. A perfume like Myths Woman was a triumph of finding something compelling within the clash of discordant ingredients. It sang to me. But how many others?

Renaud Salmon

At about the same time there was a release called Lilac Love. It felt like this was a way to bring a more familiar style of perfume done in the Amouage way. I applauded it for the effort because I thought it would be a better starting point for a perfume lover to start their Amouage journey. As I’ve spent the week enjoying the new Amouage perfumes overseen by new creative director Renaud Salmon. I was able to crystallize some of my thoughts around what Amouage really means to me.

First it means excellently constructed perfumes. I have always returned to these because there is that feeling of great architecture underneath. M. Salmon showed that is also something he values. In Overture Woman he successfully matches Mr. Chong’s architecture. It works through similar shifts with the same kind of delight in them.

I also want some intensity. Crimson Rocks cinnamon honey tinted rose delivers that. So do the early parts of Enclave. Even that quibble on my part might be another’s idea of intensity as the AmberXtreme takes over.

Interlude Man Black Iris in hindsight now feels like M. Salmon giving people an invitation to return. If that is correct you can’t then serve up something contextually challenging. You must give them something which extrapolates from that invitation.

Mackenzie Reilly

Which is what the two perfumes M. Salmon worked on with Mackenzie Reilly provides. Ashore is a daydream-like walk along a sandy strand twirling a bit of jasmine. It feels as big as the sky with an expansive smile. This is not something Amouage is known for. Yet Ashore feels every inch like one. Even with a more genial embrace.

Which brings me to the last point. I don’t want to lose the awesome complexity of Amouage. If you read through the above, you might think I’m damning with praise of being more accessible. Let me be very clear; I am not. These are all good perfumes that are well worth seeking out. Things are different but the signature rose, incense , and sandalwood are still there. They aren’t as recognizable as a Guerlainade but they do identify Amouage a lot of the time.

Which is why Meander is such a perfect example of what the new Amouage can be. If I want a perfume where I can happily spend my time picking through a complex accord or two, it is right here. I also think because it is built around a carrot, iris, and incense heart it is easily accessible to someone who just likes a good iris perfume.

Therefore I think M. Salmon is going to be a good influence on the future of Amouage. He has a clear-eyed vision which seems to be to bring the brand back to those who might have drifted away. If that’s you there are six new perfumes overseen by M. Salmon to take a sniff of and see if they appeal. My verdict is he has given me faith that he is the right person to create a New Amouage.

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Reviews Amouage Ashore and Meander- The Beginning of a Beautiful Friendship?

I am an advocate for a creative director to foster a long-term collaboration with a perfumer. My reasoning is as each comes to understand their strengths it leads to a fragrant synergy. I frequently think about a creative team having a good rapport based upon a string of good perfumes. At Amouage creative director Renaud Salmon asked perfumer Mackenzie Reilly to collaborate on two of the perfumes in the Renaissance Collection; Amouage Ashore and Amouage Meander.

Renaud Salmon

Ashore is inspired, like the other Renaissance Collection, by Omani geography. This time it is the beach on the eastern shore. You might think this would translate to a modern aquatic but there isn’t really any hint of the sea spray endemic to that style. Instead Ashore is more like a stroll on the sand away from the water where you’re enjoying the warmth.

Ms. Reilly begins with a fabulous sunny accord. It is composed of a set of slightly aldehydic and ozonic ingredients identified as a “solar accord”. What she uses to shade her sunlight is what makes this. Turmeric leaves have a spicy-woody scent which matches with the coolness of cardamom and the herbalness of baie rose. Ms. Reilly has a deft touch at evoking open spaces with her perfumes. This is another example. She adds in a lilting full spectrum jasmine sambac followed by sandalwood dusted with incense. As it all comes together it is like walking the beach twirling a bit of jasmine in your hand.

Ashore has 12-14 hour longevity and average sillage.

Mackenzie Reilly

Meander is my favorite of the six perfumes I’ve reviewed this week. It is inspired by a mountain fog which appears during monsoon season. This is where Ms. Reilly gets to show she is as skilled in a more compact style of composition. I’ve been caught in this kind of fog and it is easy to lose your bearings. Meander turns it into a pleasant experience.

It is the top accord which captures me again. Here she uses carrot seed as her core. She flanks it with baie rose and black pepper. This delineates the rootiness of the carrot while simultaneously intensifying its effect. A precise amount of frankincense swirls through with an insouciant wave. Then a fabulous rooty orris finds its partner in the carrot seed. This forms a harmonic off the orris that is enchanting. This is where I am happy to stumble around in this carrot, iris, and incense fog. Almost as a reminder to not get lost vetiver and sandalwood ground the later stages.

Meander has 12-14 hour longevity and average sillage.

The last line of the classic movie “Casablanca” is, “Louis, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.” It is tough to make a sweeping statement with two perfumes to their names. Yet, Ashore and Meander make me wonder if this is a beginning of something between M. Salmon and Ms. Reilly.

Tomorrow I wrap up with my overview of this new direction for Amouage.

Disclosure: This review is based on samples supplied by Amouage.

Mark Behnke