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 Jazmin Sarai Fayoum-Potters at the Oasis

Perfumers bring their entire bring to creating fragrance. Their childhood. Their heritage. Their appreciation of the arts. The list is long. For my favorite independent perfumers they sometimes wear it right on their atomizer. Dana El Masri shows her Arabic heritage in Jazmin Sarai Fayoum.

One of the most interesting pieces of the perfumes Ms. El Masri makes is she was trained at the Grasse Institute of Perfumery. Which tends to create a classic European fragrance sensibility taken to a new place. All her previous releases have been inspired by music. Fayoum is the first to break that trend.

Dana El Masri

Fayoum is based on the oasis of the same name west of Cairo. Unlike most oases which have their water fed by underground springs Fayoum is fed by the Nile. Along with the water comes the silt and mud which has supplied the renowned pottery business. Ms. El Masri captures the intersection of green in the desert and the creation of pots.

Violet is one of my favorite perfume ingredients, but most perfumers like to enhance the sweeter floral quality. There is another face which is astringent. That is what Ms. El Masri uses to begin Fayoum. She provides just a bit of relief through mimosa and jasmine. They seem to be there to keep it from being so cutting to be off-putting. What comes next is a wet clay accord that anyone who has ever tried to throw a pot will recognize. It is a humid density of packed earth. It sits on the wheel ready to be formed. Our potter is taking a break while contemplating the shape as twin fruits of the oasis, fig and date, appear. These are the lush versions of these fruits. They provide a compelling contrast to the clay accord. There is a stronger vegetal green which appears over the later stages while the clay accord dries out a bit.

Fayoum has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.

The clay accord at the center of this is worth the price of admission by itself. It finds a scent space somewhere between geosmin and iso e super’s dusty earth. I have enjoyed it every time I put it on skin. It is easy to feel like I am looking over the shoulder of a potter at the oasis.

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

Mark Behnke