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.
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 Vivacious– Hiram 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 Madeleine– Alessandro 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 Lindo– Rasei 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 Ambrosia– Mandy 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 Rising– Tanja 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.
- Shalini Iris Lumiere– The 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 7.2– Antonio Gardoni finds the rhythm.
Cartier Pur Kinkan– Mathilde Laurent makes a fragile citrus bubble which is compelling because of it.
Estee Lauder Beautiful Absolu– Mackenzie Reilly boldly edits the original Beautiful into a modern version.
Gallivant Bukhara– Ralf Schwieger puts iris under his magnifying glass.
Imaginary Authors A Whiff of Wafflecone– Josh Meyer makes a high-quality salted caramel ice cream treat.
Jazmin Sarai Fayoum– Dana 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 Chouteau– Shawn 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 Queen– Sarah 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 Treachery– Shawn Maher goes really big.
Courreges 2060 Cedar Pulp– Fanny 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 Betula– Mark 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.
Thanks to everyone involved in allowing me to keep writing this entire year.