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

Colognoisseur Best of 2020 Part 1: Overview

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That 2020 has been an unusual year would be an understatement. None of the fragrance expos. No trips to NYC for perfume events. Instead it turned out to be a different kind of exploration. I’ve been hovering around 650-700 new perfumes tried every year since I started Colognoisseur nearly seven years ago. If you asked me in May if I would be close to that I would’ve been skeptical. Yet when I look at the last line on my 2020 spreadsheet the number reads 634.

One of the reasons it is close to a normal year is I reached out to some new lines for samples. Over the course of the year I was able to delve into new independent perfumers; Jorum Studios, Libertine, Baruti, Christele Jacquemin, and Chronotope. It was a great experience which allowed me to see developing aesthetics in one piece. It was brands like these which provided that fun of finding something new which usually comes from Esxence or Pitti.

One of the trends that seemed to expand dramatically was that of reviewers becoming creative directors of their own perfumes. Most of these were as cynical as the mainstream releases using focus groups to design their fragrances. They just tried to decide what their readers/subscribers liked best based on measured response and made something to reflect that. That’s just a focus group in a different costume. There is a fantastic template for anyone serious about doing this. Just look at Victor Wong of Zoologist. He has gone from Facebook to the Fragrance Foundation Perfume Extraordinaire Award this year. He makes perfumes he likes while trusting there is an audience. So far, he has been right.

Renaud Salmon of Amouage

Amouage went through a big change as new creative director Renaud Salmon took charge. Over the course of the last half of the year M. Salmon reassured me that this important brand is going to do well as it moves in a different direction. I believe it will continue to be one of the key creative brands in perfumery.

This was also a year for some truly odd accords for perfumes to be built upon. One which repeated over and over was the scent of horse. Maison D’Etto’s entire collection is based on horses from creative director Brianna Lipovsky’s life. Ignacio Figueras Palm Beach and Sarah Baker Bascule also brought some thoroughbreds to the party.

Wet cardboard was the centerpiece of Nez 1+1 Folia. Clay pottery formed the nucleus of Jazmin Sarai Fayoum. Freddie Albrighton and Antonio Gardoni challenged me with one of the most difficult fragrances of the year in Douleur!2. It walks right on the edge of unpleasant, which was its intent.

The gourmand style of perfume continues to evolve as 2020 was bookended by Rasei Fort Cielito Lindo and Masque Milano Le Donne di Masque Madeleine. Both finding a new level for the genre.

If there was one thing I realized as I was looking back over the year I must have written a riff on the following a lot this year. “The dual nature of iris as both powdery and rooty was on display”. 2020 is the year of iris. It is also the year of great iris perfumes as you will see as I unveil the list of the best of the year.

I also want to close this overview with a thanks to everyone on the perfume side who assisted me in getting perfume sent to me. I may not have left the house, but the world of perfume showed up on my doorstep daily.

My other thanks are to the readers of this blog. In this ridiculous year of uncertainty writing for you every day was one of the few bits of normalcy which remained for me. I cherish that you choose to share my passion for perfume by dropping by.

I’ll be back tomorrow with my picks for Perfume, Perfumer, Creative Director and Brand of the Year. That will be followed by my Top 25 new perfumes of 2020.

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Masque Milano Le Donne di Masque Madeleine- Tuberose-filled Confection

When I was invited to the online premiere of Masque Milano Le Donne di Masque Madeleine I was excited for a few reasons. One is just because Creative directors Alessandro Brun and Riccardo Tedeschi have rarely disappointed me. Two is because one of my favorite young perfumers was collaborating with them, Fanny Bal. Finally after nibbling around the edges of making a gourmand perfume for Masque Milano, Madeleine goes all in.

Just this year the two previous releases in the Le Donne di Masque collection used doughy gourmand accords as featured parts. Dolceaqua had a flaky croissant while Petra featured a deep-fried dough. Because of that I wanted Sigs. Brun and Tedeschi to go for something exclusively gourmand. In Mme Bal they found a partner who imagined that a gourmand fragrance isn’t for the taste buds but the nose.

Mont Blanc Pastries

The inspiration was a tearoom Sigs. Brun and Tedeschi visited when they were in Paris. Named Angelina they are known for their hot chocolate and their signature Mont Blanc pastry. The latter is filled with chestnut cream to rival the hot chocolate. What Mme Bal has done with Madeleine is to make her own filled olfactory pastry. She uses rich gourmand accords to encase an equally opulent tuberose.

Fanny Bal, Alessandro Brun, and Riccardo Tedeschi (l. to r.)

Those of us at the premiere event were given the two accords to smell. The tuberose is that creamy sultry version which has appealed to so many over the years. The confectionary accord is chestnut and chocolate. It is like imagining your nose bites down on the sweet outside to find a floral center. It is as delightful as it sounds.

Mme Bal constructs her confectionary accord around chestnut, cream, vanilla, tonka and a very special ingredient to give it life, cumin. When I smelled this as an accord the cumin is what gave the gourmand ingredients vitality. It is likely if Mme Bal has not used it this would have laid flat. Instead it brightens the entire accord. Giving it an enticing scent that draws you in. As you do and crack through the shell you find a treat for the nose. Mme Bal uses the finest version of tuberose she can get at IFF, tuberose absolute LMR. The entire catalog of LMR ingredients is amazing. Interacting with this as the accord itself the nuances of the LMR version is obvious. She uses small amounts of geranium to set the glowing green thread in tuberose alight. She also uses cypress to find a foundation for the creamy floral to push back upon. As this oozes out of the center of the confectionary accord it doesn’t take over like most tuberose does. It finds itself in a supporting role which makes this all that much better.

Madeleine has 12-14 hour longevity and average sillage.

I’ve mentioned in the past that this gourmand genre is the place where any perfumer could innovate. This has become especially true of this new generation of perfumers of which Mme Bal is part of. It is also why it will be the innovative brands like Masque Milano who give them the opportunity to try. Madeleine is a gorgeous tuberose-filled confection for the nose which shows why it works.

Disclosure: This review is based on a sample supplied by Masque Milano.

Mark Behnke