Colognoisseur Best of 2020 Part 1: Overview


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 Christele Jacquemin Underworld and Meandering Soul- Transitions

Yesterday I introduced you to independent perfumer Christele Jacquemin. She describes herself as “photographer-perfumer-traveler”. The other two debut releases from her eponymous line showcase all three of those.

Christele Jacquemin

Christele Jacquemin Underworld

Underworld was inspired by the perfumer’s travel between Barcelona and Paris while she was studying perfumery at the latter. The photographs the perfume is based upon are differing blocks of color in bands framed by darkness. This serves as a good description of this perfume.

The top band of darkness comes through a mix of cumin and black pepper. Mme Jacquemin finds a neat harmony between these two obstreperous ingredients. The light begins to come through with cardamom and carrot seed. There is a lot of the latter providing that unique sweetness as contrast to the top notes. The real spotlight comes when tuberose and mimosa come out. She takes these notes and allows them to have about as much presence as they could. The golden powdery mimosa coats the creamy narcotic tuberose. The lower band of darkness comes through a smoky frankincense and vetiver. Swirls of these ingredients rise through the florals creating a memorable shadow effect.

Underworld has 14-16 hour longevity and average sillage.

Christele Jacquemin Meandering Soul

Meandering Soul came from Mme Jacquemin’s residency in Taipei. When you are in one of the great metropolises of the world if you want to find some peace you need to go out in the wee hours of the morning. I share this fascination with her. I greatly enjoy walking through the streets of the big cities I’ve lived in when it doesn’t exactly sleep but it breathes a little slower. Meandering Soul captures the sense of discovery these kinds of walks can offer.

It begins in an urban greenspace. In the light of day the scent of these parks is overwhelmed by the other scents of the city. At night they come out like a night-blooming flower. The top accord is fennel and hinoki. The vegetal licorice-like root with the refined version of cedar finds that moment. As you begin to walk you find a small flower box with narcissus and ylang-ylang growing. Through all these debut perfumes I have admired her ability to find interesting contrast in her floral choices. It is at its best here. The suppleness of the ylang-ylang meets the deep -rooted depths of narcissus. The last stretch of our stroll takes us past a bakery working on a caramel confection for the next day. A fantastic gourmand accord of caramel, cinnamon, and tobacco form an odd kind of sticky bun effect. It was so good I wanted to go find the real thing on the days I wore this.

Meanderng Soul has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.

Mme Jacquemin has made an impressive start to her perfumer’s career with all three of these. She has a wonderful habit of finding equilibrium between what seem like unlikely partners. She finds the place of transition and pins it down.

Disclosure: This review is based on samples provided by Christele Jacquemin.

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Christele Jacquemin Impermanence- Visions of Blue

As you all know I enjoy finding new perfumers and brands. I have been recently blessed with an abundance of this. For the next week or so I am going to be introducing you to three new brands I have enjoyed for the first time over the last couple months. I begin with Christele Jacquemin Impermanence.

Christele Jacquemin

Christele Jacquemin describes herself on her website as “photographer-perfumer-traveler”. Her three debut releases showcase her fusion of all three. When an independent perfumer seeks to meld multiple influences it can be difficult to find the right balance. In Impermanence Mme Jacquemin finds it.

Impermanence was inspired by a month she spent at an artist’s residency in a suburb of Shanghai called Jin Ze. There she created a collection of seven photographs which make up the Impermanence visual collection. The connecting theme is a blue background of several shades. Mme Jacquemin creates a fragrance of different shades which my synesthesia-challenged senses experience as blue. It feels like her photos have found their way into a perfume bottle.

She opens this with an overdose of ginger. I like ginger at this volume there is a graininess to it which is appealing. The green of hinoki leaves and rosemary add a different shading to the ginger along with some unexpected depth. The heart transitions through an intermezzo of acerbic yerba mate. This fits into the other notes providing connection to a clever base accord. Mme Jacquemin uses the rose surrogate palmarosa and vetiver. Palmarosa is a very green rose analog which makes it an ideal partner to vetiver. This green harmony of floral and grassiness is awesome on a hot day. I wore this on a day we had heat advisories and this combination shimmered on my skin.

Impermanence has 12-14 hour longevity and average sillage.

Mme Jacquemin does a fantastic job of turning the visual into perfume. By taking her shades of blue photographs she realizes a perfume with visions of blue.

Disclosure: This review is based on a sample provided by Christele Jacquemin.

Mark Behnke