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

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

New Perfume Reviews Amouage Enclave and Crimson Rocks- Fjords and Honey

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New creative director at Amouage Renaud Salmon makes his first impression with the new Renaissance Collection. He decided to start fresh. There is the use of perfumers who haven’t previously worked for Amouage. There is also a different approach to the perfumes which is evident within these perfumes. Today I’ll look at Amouage Enclave and Amouage Crimson Rocks.

Renaud Salmon

For Enclave M. Salmon asked perfumer Julien Rasquinet to collaborate with him. The concept was to capture the sunset over the fjords in Oman. Now I know when you think of fjords the Middle East is not where you think to find them. If you travel to Musandam you will find warm weather fjords. What this means for a perfume is steep rock walls over crystalline blue water. The perfume reflects the contrast between those two natural features.

Julien Rasquinet

It begins with a unique accord to represent the water. It isn’t an aquatic accord. It is an aromatic herbal accord expertly constructed by M. Rasquinet. Spearmint and cardamom are the primary pieces. The cardamom interacts with the herbal mint in a way which forms an exhilarating effect as if looking at the turquoise water from on high. Baie rose and cinnamon add in a sense of the warmth of the breeze. It begins to shift towards a leathery heart where the earthy fraction of patchouli, incense, and rose are present. This is where Enclave begins to display the long-standing Amouage rose and resin which is a hallmark. I kind of wished the perfume stopped here. The choice to use AmberXtreme in the base acts as the moon does to the sun in an eclipse. It blots out everything. I know this is there for longevity, but I really wish they just went with something less overwhelming. What comes before the AmberXtreme exerts its will is quite nice.

Enclave has 24 hours plus longevity but that is mostly the AmberXtreme and average sillage.

Domitille Michalon-Bertier

Crimson Rocks is also inspired by Omani geography but in this case, I don’t find the connection. Working with perfumer Domitille Michalon-Bertier they design a honey soaked rose which drips with intensity.

Before we get to that we get a concentrated blast of cinnamon and baie rose. If you are familiar with the smell of the cinnamon candies called red hots this is exactly what the first moments of this smell like. I adore the smell of this. The candied cinnamon is its own unique perspective on sweet. A more traditional sweet comes as the honey begins to flow. In its way is a sturdy Damascene rose. early on the rose is powdery before turning a lusher spicier face towards the honey. It is here where the cinnamon provides a corona to the honey and rose where Crimson Rocks sings. This time they choose to use vetiver and oak as the base accord which allows the sticky spicy confection to find a new contrast.

Crimson Rocks has 16-18 hour longevity and average sillage.

Tomorrow I’ll complete the overview of the Renaissance Collection with Ashore and Meander.

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

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Reviews Amouage Rose Incense and Overture Woman- Farewell Christopher, Hello Renaud

As a scientist I am always looking for patterns. Perfume is not exempt from that. As I start this series of reviews, I begin with the last perfume by the previous creative director at Amouage, Christopher Chong called Rose Incense. I also look at one of the first original perfumes be the new creative director Renaud Salmon. He chose to do Overture Woman which is the female counterpart to one of the other final creations by Mr. Chong.

Christopher Chong

Rose Incense was an exclusive until this past summer. Which is why it is only widely available now. Mr. Chong again used one of the grand inspirations for the perfume. This time it was the movie “Citizen Kane”. He asked perfumer Bruno Jovanovic to collaborate. It is his first perfume for the brand.

Bruno Jovanovic

Rose Incense is probably the most simply formulated perfume of Mr. Chong’s time at the brand. Instead of the entire movie it almost seems like it is trying to capture that moment when the dying Charles Kane utters “Rosebud”. Translated to a perfume it means what the name on the label promises a lush rose coated in resins.

It begins with that rose which is the Damask variety. This variety exists to be paired with incense because of its strength. Early on elemi provides a citrus-tinted woody opening. The incense begins to appear soon after. At first it is a lighter version which allows the rose to have the lead. As we get to the heart it flips as the incense is now in charge with the rose in support. Myrrh adds to the frankincense along with a thread of leather in between the floral and incense. It is completed with a rich sandalwood.

Rose Incense has 14-16 hour longevity and average sillage.

Rose Incense is not the best example of Mr. Chong’s tenure. It acts as a farewell as he leaves the stage. Perhaps it is meant to be his own enigmatic perfumed “Rosebud”.

Renaud Salmon

A stage as grand as Amouage abhors a vacuum. It is now time to say hello to M. Salmon. For his first act he chose to design Overture Woman. When he began his Amouage career with a flanker I urged him to lean into his new position. Not that he could have told me at the time he was doing exactly that with Overture Woman. Mr Chong’s masculine version was a boozy resinous affair which was typical of his style. M. Renaud’s feminine version also contains a boozy component the apple brandy known as Calvados on top of a spicy rose and leather. Working with perfumer Annick Menardo they create something beautiful.

Annick Menardo

Overture Woman begins with the Calvados paired with saffron. It is a fascinating opening where the alcoholic apple is given a little extra bite with cinnamon. The saffron provides a slightly leathery glow as if from the pit of the stomach after a sip of the real thing. Leather itself arrives as it adds its presence with a refined version of the accord. Myrrh and frankincense come forward to give a resinous finish to this.

Overture Woman has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.

M. Salmon and Mme Menardo have made a very Amouage type of perfume without being the like Mr. Chong’s aesthetic. In Overture Woman there is a crisp enunciation of the phases but once they come together it feels like the beginning of a new aesthetic at Amouage.

I’ll delve deeper into that over the next two days as I review the four perfumes in the Renaissance Collection.

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

Mark Behnke

Amouage Makes a Change

November and December are the most valuable real estate for Colognoisseur. It is when I am trying to squeeze in all the perfume I have left to try for the year and must figure out when to write about it. I don’t consider it a problem it just forces some decisions to be made. For the first time I am going to spend some of that time on a single brand because I think it is important enough to do it. The brand is Amouage.

Christopher Chong

As we end the first twenty years of the 21st century I’ve been thinking about the brands which have helped define this new era of independent and niche perfumery. Right at the top of my list is Amouage. I would meet the brand in 2007 with the twin releases Jubilation 25 and Jubilation XXV. The latter has stood the test of time as one of my all-time favorites. This was the first year then creative director Christopher Chong began his time with the brand. Until last year he oversaw what I consider perfume for those who love perfume. Mr. Chong’s love of classical music and opera were translated into perfumes with a similar grand sweep. The perfumes he helped conceive were worth spending time with.

Renaud Salmon

When he stepped down as creative director, I had some concerns. I had seen one of Amouage’s contemporaries, Clive Christian, fall to pieces after this kind of change. I waited for news of who was taking over. It took some time, but the announcement of Renaud Salmon had me happy there was going to be someone else. But would he live up to what I believe the brand stands for?

My first impression was Interlude Man Black Iris where he oversaw a flanker of one of Mr. Chong’s creations. My worry spiked again because if Amouage was going to become a line of flankers I was not going to be pleased with that choice. After I said that in my review, I received a few e-mails telling me M. Salmon was not going to do that. He chose to do a flanker as a figurative “get to know you” between new creative director and consumers.

In the waning days of 2020 I have an unprecedented opportunity to weigh in on Amouage past and present. I have samples of six new perfumes with which to illuminate all that Amouage hopes to be. I am going to spend the next three days reviewing two new releases each day. On Friday I will come back and give my conclusions in a single place although I suspect it will become obvious as the week moves along.

Tomorrow I will review Mr. Chong’s next to last release Rose Incense and M. Salmon’s Overture Woman which is the distaff counterpart to last year’s Overture Man. It gives me the chance to compare the style of both side-by-side.

The next day I will do the first half of the new Renaissance Collection; Crimson Rocks and Enclave.

This will be followed by the remaining two; Ashore and Meander.

I hope you will join me for Amouage Week.

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Amouage Interlude Man Black Iris- Now! With Iris Added!

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Change is inevitable. When it happens to the great perfume brands it doesn’t mean the end of things it has often created an entirely new creative phase. When it is one of the seminal niche perfume brands where this is taking place the first new release attracts a lot of scrutiny. We are looking for hints of the future. This is where Amouage Interlude Man Black Iris falls.

Renaud Salmon

Amouage became one of the premier artistic perfume brands under the creative direction of Christopher Chong. He left a little over a year ago. His replacement is Renaud Salmon. I will say when I was introduced to him via press release as the “Chief Experience Officer” I smirked at the concept. Really what the heck is that? Are you trying to avoid being compared to the past? Might as well call yourself Creative Director because you can call yourself Minister of Scent and you’re still gong to be compared. It might be unfair, but you are stepping into big shoes. My suggestion is for you to own it. Create your version of Amouage for better or worse. Stop hiding behind a silly fabricated sobriquet.

Pierre Negrin

If I read M. Salmon’s words in that press release correctly, he is still learning the brand. He is looking for the space where his creative imprint can be seen. For his first release he decided to create a flanker of 2012’s Interlude Man. It is an interesting choice to take one of the more popular releases and make it over as your introduction. The original perfumer of Interlude Man, Pierre Negrin, was asked to work on Interlude Man Black Iris.

The name of the perfume pretty much says it all this is Interlude Man with iris added. It reminds me of the old 1960’s commercials when they would say “Same Great Taste! Now! With Mint Added!” This is the same thing as applied to Interlude Man.

Interlude Man Black Iris opens with the same herbal green top accord as rosemary replaces oregano and pimento. It moves into the classic incense and amber heart which is where the iris appears. It is a nice addition to this resinous heart. It is the promised “black iris” so many perfumes promise but fail to deliver. It ends in the same oud and sandalwood base as before with just a bit of vanilla amplifying the sweetness in sandalwood.

Interlude Man Black Iris has 18-24 hour longevity and average sillage.

To use a music metaphor Interlude Man Black Iris is a Renaud Salmon remix of a Christopher Chong chart-topper. What does this say about the future? Hard to say. If M. Salmon is going to spend his time doing remixes of the past, ie. flankers, at least they are high quality versions. If that is the next phase at Amouage then maybe Chief Experience Officer will be apt. There will be no real creativity as he will choose to live off the past. I am more hopeful that M. Salmon will grow into a creative director with his own distinct aesthetic. For now while Interlude Man Black Iris is a nice flanker it is just a luxurious flanker with nothing new to say.

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

Mark Behnke