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 Jorum Studio Part 2- Nectary, Phloem, and Trimerous

Concluding my reviews of independent perfumer Euan McCall’s jorum Studio Progressive Botany Vol.1. For Part 1 follow this link.

Nectary is described as a “brutal floral” on the Jorum Studio website. I get the description, but it tracks more closely to the Instagram photos of Mr. McCall’s I mentioned yesterday. In those pictures they are close-ups of the growing things of Scotland. Nectary is a close-up of the flowers and growing things of Scotland. It opens with a classic fruity floral duo of peach and rose. It is given a tart contrast through cranberry. Mr. McCall wanted this to be a wild milieu and so he surrounds this accord with that unkempt wilderness. He threads oud, castoreum, civet and musk together to remind you of the creatures living here. More intriguingly ambergris, labdanum, and olibanum provide an oddly briny resinous undercurrent. This forms a snapshot of rose in the wild.

Phloem is described as “a diabolical assemblage of odourants”. If I thought Nectary was one of Mr. McCall’s photos as perfume; Phloem is one of those with a kaleidoscopic filter on top. This is a fruity floral of rivals not interested in playing nice. In the vigorously kinetic development that ensues the joy of contrast can be experienced. Mr. McCall chooses the very sweet passion fruit to find its antagonist in rhubarb. This is a conflict of tartness pushing back against the sweet. The kind of tension between opposites repeats itself. Blueberry pushes back against honeysuckle as fruit and flower reverse roles in tart and sweet. Savory sesame tries to prevail over the sweet hay-like tonka. Green gorse flies into the citrus tinted amyris. Everywhere you look odiferous struggles are happening. It makes Phloem a busy type of perfume that some will find to be too unrestrained. I found that after spending some time wearing it, falling into the battle royale of perfume was fun.

Trimerous stand out from the other fragrances in Progressive Botany Vol. 1 as the only soliflore. You could make the case Nectary might be a rose soliflore but not to the degree Trimerous displays the orris butter at its heart. When a perfumer chooses to take one of the most precious perfume ingredients as the core of a soliflore they show their perspective in what they use to set it off. The rich thick butter of aged iris roots is one of the ingredients which commands the price because of the quality within it. Mr. McCall takes my favorite rooty part and amplifies it. The opening is the opulent orris butter out in front as carrot seed and angelica root find that doughy rootiness coaxing it to the foreground. Subtle touches of herbal green with thyme and baie rose along with the citrus sparkle of bergamot and nectarine remind me of light reflecting off a precious jewel. There is a lesser silvery shimmer fine orris butter has that is often lost in a perfume. Mr. McCall finds that polished veneer with the acerbic nature of juniper and kombucha. It is like shadows off the fine flatware. The powdery iris rears its head atop an animalic trio of oud, leather, and musk. Instead of powder puff it feels like the powdered lash of a luxurious dominatrix. Vanilla and incense provide a soothing balm for the return of the rooty iris over the final phases.

All three have 14-16 hour longevity and average sillage.

Just as I had experienced with the perfumes Mr. McCall produced for Senyoko his own creations show the same breadth of design. Any perfumer that can bridge the gap between the iris soliflore of Trimerous with the kinetic furor of Phloem knows what he is doing.

Disclosure: This review is based on samples provided by Jorum Studio.

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Jorum Studio Part 1- Arborist, Carduus, and Medullary-ray

As much as I grumble about the dearth of new releases in January it does have an upside. Over the past few years it has allowed me the time to explore a new young perfumer’s line. For 2020 it is the work of Scotland-based perfumer Euan McCall for his own brand Jorum Studio.

Euan McCall

I became acquainted with Mr. McCall last year for the work he produced for Senyoko. I was quite impressed with his ability to make perfume of subtlety or power. Many independent perfumers find a single key to compose in. Based on the Senyoko releases I was wondering if Mr. McCall was producing his own perfumes. I had a feeling under his own creative eye there might be something worth learning about.

I contacted him and he graciously agreed to send me a sample set of the latest collection Progressive Botany Vol. 1. I had an idea these were going to be fascinating before I ever got a whiff of any of them. It was because through the process of connecting to Mr. McCall I began to follow him on Instagram. I wake up most mornings to a photo of the Scottish flora. These pictures showed me an artist’s eye who sees beyond the broader strokes to find the grace notes which make for a compelling aesthetic. The perfumes live up to that. I am going to spend the next two days reviewing all six perfumes in the Progressive Botany Vol. 1 collection.

Arborist is “an ode to enchanting woodlands”. When I saw the name it made me think or Mr. McCall’s Instagram photos. This is the fragrance of perfumer as arborist as he walks through the Scottish landscape. It opens on a leathery osmanthus which is provided an acerbic tart contrast via quince. Arborist then finds the woodlands promised as Mr. McCall forms a powerful woody accord of fir balsam and spruce resin. This reminded me strongly of the Florida pine trees I grew up with including the sap. That stickiness is enhanced with a precise use of honey. It becomes particularly interesting over the final stages as malt and myrrh provide grain and resin to the final construct. I can’t put my finger on what comes together to form a clean sweat accord, but it reminds me of a fall hike when I remove my sweaty flannel shirt.

Carduus is an homage to the Scottish Order of the Thistle. I have a bramble thicket where I walk once or twice a week. It has a fresh herbal natural scent to it. Mr. McCall finds that same quality in Carduus. Before describing it, I want to mention how tonally different it is from Arborist. Arborist is a burly Scotsman building in power as it goes. Carduus goes the opposite direction; its most intense at the beginning before finding a lovely light touch at the end. The intensity of the opening is all from a mixture of herbal ingredients. Primarily chamomile, clary sage, Bengal pepper, and clove. This is the green slightly woody quality of the bramble patch. It then does a fantastic pivot through Mr. McCall’s use of a cocoa absolute which doesn’t come off as gourmand. It provides a divider of sorts as a set of tobacco infused woods of cherry and mahogany form a platform for the top accord to spread out upon. Woven throughout are subtle florals, rose and tuberose find purchase among the vines. Over the latter stages Carduus is a delicate herbal woody reverie.

Medullary-ray is one of the most unique interpretations of fig I’ve encountered in a long time. Mr. McCall was trying to catch the scent of a woodworker shaving down a plank in the Tuscan sunshine. The location of this woodworker is on the edge of a grove of fig and olive trees. Mr. McCall re-interprets the concept of a fig-centric Mediterranean fragrance as he combines the fig and olive. The fig is the creamy green of the fig leaf wile the olive is the oleaginous viscosity of the pressed fruit. Cardamom provides lift to the fig leaf as juniper and frankincense provide the borderlines for them to interact within. I adore this accord. It has an odd decadence to it I just wanted to immerse myself in. It gets better as orris provides the rooty transition to the woodworker in this tableau. There is a rich mixture of woods here. Sandalwood, guaiac, cedar, birch, and papyrus. You might think that last would get lost. Instead it provides the glue which holds all the woods together. It closes with a sweaty castoreum reflecting the person doing the woodworking.

All three perfumes have 14-16 hour longevity and average sillage.

I’ll conclude tomorrow with the remaining three perfumes in Progressive Botany Vol. 1 at this link.

Disclosure: This review is based on a sample set provided by Jorum Studio.

Mark Behnke