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 Sarah Baker Bascule- A Well-Mannered Equine

As I spend these final days of 2020 looking back over the year, I am trying to identify trends. If you had told me in January that in December one of those trends would be horse accords, I would’ve laughed. But it is and Sarah Baker Bascule joins in.

Sarah Baker

Sarah Baker has been making perfume ever since 2016. She has been deliberate about the way she releases her collections. For 2020 she has the S. Baker Collection. It is notable that she is stepping into the shoes of perfumer on two of them. If she is intent on taking the reins of her brand going forward Bascule closes the loop she began as she returns to working with her first collaborator Ashley Eden Kessler. Those early perfumes, Greek Keys and Leopard, were fragrance as hedonism. They struck just the right level of intensity to keep it from being mawkish. With Bascule they are in an entirely different frame of mind. This is the scented version of horse and rider as a single entity. Ms. Kessler finds the milieu of the tack room and the barn along with the horse itself.

Ashley Eden Kessler

This begins with an inverted pyramid as the leather of the tack room has the early moments. Ms. Kessler has composed a remarkable leather accord which evokes the polished version of riding boots and saddle. She even gives a hint of saddle soap running through it. As we enter the stall the hay lining the ground lifts into the leather. This is a gorgeous mixture of sweet leather and sweet dried grass. Into this comes a rich juicy peach. As if we were giving a treat to our riding partner as we feed it quarters of peach while getting the saddle situated. There is a metallic ingredient which slides through things as we get in the saddle. Now it is time to ride. Ms. Kessler has a wide-open green field accord to race across. Using vetiver, muguet, and grass oximes she finds the sense of the turf underneath the hooves of our steed. At this point the leather hay, metal and greenery form that horse accord I have become acquainted with. The ride comes to a finish with amber and musk capturing the setting sun as we leave our riding partner to rest for the night.

Bascule has 10-12 hour longevity and moderate sillage.

In their previous collaborations Ms. Baker and Kessler were happy to let loose with a rebel yell of hedonism. In Bascule they find the sensual pleasures of horse and rider as their well-mannered equine gallops with abandon.

Disclosure: this review is based on a sample provided by Sarah Baker Perfumes.

Mark Behnke