I think we can all agree that 2020 was a flaming dumpster fire of a year. Truly, it was trash. I’d say we could take a look back at the year, but I don’t want to turn around and face it, what with a global pandemic that has killed, at the time of writing, 1.79 million people, and all of the horrendous things that have gone along with it. So I’m not going to do that and instead we’re going to spend a few minutes taking our minds away from the world with the greatest distraction there is: perfume.
Every year I hold “The Candies”, my annual perfume awards. Well, they’re not really awards. Nobody actually wins anything, and the only person that gets tipsy on champagne during the process is me *hiccup*. No, The Candies are essentially a round-up of my favourite scents of the year. They’ve evolved somewhat over the years, with varying categories, but now in the vein of keeping things simple, The Candies showcase my ten favourite perfume launches of the year and also my least favourite, which is dubbed the “Sour Candy” (however, not this year because the last thing we need in our lives is negativity, am I right?). So here they are, The Candies 2020.
OK, OK, before we actually get into the smelly things I have enjoyed this year, let’s do the thing I said I wasn’t going to do and take a quick look back at 2020, but from a perfume perspective. Surprisingly, it has been a good year for perfume, and I say surprisingly, because the pandemic has changed so much of how the industry works. Many fragrances that were due to launch, didn’t, and have been pushed back. Stores have been shut and when they’ve been opened, testers haven’t been freely available. What’s more, many of us have been in and out of lockdown (currently on our third here in the UK, wooo!) and working from home, so wearing scent hasn’t felt like a priority, especially when we’re not going anywhere… So there have many barriers to perfume in 2020 but that doesn’t mean there haven’t been intriguing and beautiful fragrances launched, because there have.
Here are ten of my favourites…
Let’s kick of with Le Mâle Le Parfum because, after taking an extended hiatus from this blog, it was one of the first perfumes I reviewed this year. I had high hopes for this, as a lifelong Le Mâle fan, and Le Parfum did not disappoint. Created as a modern reinvention of Le Mâle, 25 years after he burst on to the scene, Le Parfum is the work of Quentin Bisch and Nathalie Gracia-Cetto of Givaudan. They have masterfully taken the barbershop signature of Le Mâle, warmed and butched it up, placing it firmly in the gourmand, post 1 Million context of modern masculine perfumery. Le Mâle Le Parfum smells like Le Mâle, but almost as if our favourite sailor has finally grown up a bit and stopped shaving his chest. Le Parfum is more rugged, warmer, more aromatic fougère, and more edible. He is the captain to Le Mâle’s cabin boy and is a more than fitting addition to the lineup. Also, is it just me, but has Le Mâle’s butt got bigger? I swear, that bottle has been in the gym doing some squats…
Next up is Oak Wood by Sunspel and I think I may be cheating with this one… OK, OK, I can’t cheat if I make the rules but I’ll come clean, I think this may have actually launched last year, but I didn’t get my nose on it until 2020, so here it is. Sunspel is a luxury clothing brand based in the UK and Oak Wood is their debut fragrance – and boy, what a fragrance! Created by the rather wonderful and idiosyncratic perfumer, Lyn Harris (who appears on this list twice!), Oak Wood is just a bloody stunning ode to the English countryside. I wore it and fell in love with it on a pug walk near my village. Nigel and I set off with the pugman in tow, trapsing through a young forest, filled with yellow leaves, brush and tall grass. Oak Wood, with its dazzling citrus top notes, soft leafy greenery, and warm, oaky woody base, just felt perfect. I haven’t stopped wearing it since and everyone I’ve spoken to about it has seemed equally obsessed. So Oak Wood is one of my best of 2020.
Whilst I’m cheating, I am going to shoehorn a couple of fragrances into the next entry. F1 Fragrances could have been an absolute disaster, thinking about other car-related perfume brands (except for Bentley who have done some decent things) but actually, their Engineered Collection is really impressive. It consists of five fragrances, each with a cool name like Carbon Reign and Neeum White (“Neeum” being the sound an F1 car makes when it flies past you) and a flawless bottle, that looks like the birds eye view of an F1 car. Oh and this collection has a Ross Lovegrove-designed, 3D printed shell that is just insanely cool. The fragrances are also really good. Standouts for me are Overtake 320 (warm, nutty Tonka and vetiver, with a hint of burned rubber), Neeum White (a cool narcissus powder) and Carbon Reign (the idea of champagne on the podium, in scent form). It’s a great collection that deserves more attention and definitely one of the scented highlights of 2020.
Gallivant has quickly become one of my favourite indie brands. I admire their accessible approach to perfume, with affordable 30ml bottles (although I’d like a 100ml of London to douse myself in, tbh) and a subtle, pleasing aesthetic. Each scent captures the spirit of a particularly city with an element of abstraction and fantasy, and Bukhara, the latest from the brand is no exception. It is however, an exceptional iris, all buttery, earthy, powdery and smooth, with flashes of fruity peach and spice. Bukhara, which takes its name and inspiration from the city in Uzbekistan, is a wonderfully affable iris that smells decadent and luxurious, but also casual and easy. It’s so beautiful.
If you’ve ever listened to my podcast Fume Chat, you will likely know that Nick, my co-host, has a thing against cucumber. Cucumber is his kryptonite which is funny, because it’s one of my favourite notes. I also love the work of perfumer Lyn Harris and her brand Perfumer H, so it’s a real case of “quelle surprise” that Perfumer H’s Cucumber is on this list. Perfumer H release a seasonal wardrobe of perfumes twice a year (I think it’s twice) and Cucumber was a new addition this year, presented in their summer collection. It is glorious. It starts all fresh and aqueous with an obvious note of cucumber (duh), but it becomes greener with time, presenting the dry richness of galbanum and the grassy, earthy warmth of vetiver. It’s a green masterpiece that has worked well for me throughout autumn/winter 2020 – now I just can’t wait to wear it in summer 2021!
Sticking with the subject of green, my next entry is George from Carine Roitfeld. As the former Editor in Chief of French Vogue, Carine clearly has a love for perfume, and good olfactory taste too, which very much shows in her debut collection of seven scents. George is the standout and whilst I find the concept, names and bottle (ugh, that bottle – so ugly) a bit ‘meh’, the fragrance is really good. In my review I described George as a lovechild of two CHANEL fragrances: Nº19 and Cristalle. It possesses the aldehydic sparkle and deep greenery of the former, with the fresh, crystalline elegance of the latter. George, which was composed by perfumer Yann Vasnier, feels more modern and current than the two CHANEL fragrances (which are still glorious, of course) with an elegant lightness that is airy and bubbly. I have been dousing myself in it over the year.
This year I wrote a piece about one of my favourite aroma chemicals: the delightful Cashmeran. A key feature in that article was Molecule 05 and Escentric 05, the two latest launches from Escentric Molecules, both of which centred around the material (with Molecule 05 being simply Cashmeran in alcohol). The Escentric is the standout of the two (as typically is the case) and Escentric 05 is a unique essay on Cashmeran that sees it paired with mouthwatering citrus notes, pine and greenery to create the image of dry brush under the hot summer sun. I’ve worn it a ton AND I’ve also used an entire bottle of the matching shower gel, which is really refreshing in the shower!
I had a realisation recently that, whenever I sniff a new collection of perfumes from a brand, I inevitably fall in love with the rose (because there’s always a rose). True to form, with Matiere Premiere, the new brand from perfumer Aurelien Guichard, it was Radical Rose that stood out to me (I’m predictable, what can I say). This is the most glorious, sumptuous and decadent rose. It’s bright and fruity, like neon, but ever so intense jammy at its heart. Using the highest concentration of Rose Centifolia in a fragrance, Radical Rose really is for rose lovers, drying down to a rich, resinous base of patchouli and labdanum. I love it, but it is a rose, so no surprises there really…
Goldfield & Banks always have something interesting to offer. They celebrate a laid back style that is undeniably Australian, presented in perfumery compositions that have a French twist. More importantly, the brand pays homage to Australian materials and places in a way that nobody else has done before. Bohemian Lime focuses on the finger lime, evoking Byron Bay vibes through glorious, sun-soaked citrus and butch fougere underpinnings that lead one to think of muscular, hairy chested Aussies in budgy smugglers (not that I need much encouragement, mind). Bohemian Lime is an aromatic citrus fragrances that lasts for hours and has a bold presence. What’s not to love?
OK so, these have been presented to you in no particular order up until this point, but I am very much saving the best for last because Rouge is my favourite perfume launch of 2020 *hold for applause*. I realised that I’m actually a big Comme des Garçons fan and I have amassed a pretty good collection of their scents, with my favourites being the original CDG Parfum from 1994, 2, 2 Man, Amazingreen, Blackpepper and now, Rouge. Rouge is an exploration of red through the most unexpected twists. It’s all red berries and pink pepper up top, with a twist of cool, vegetal beetroot bringing a mineral subversion. Then it all changes and about three hours in you realise that you’re wearing a smoky leather scent with a hint of beetroot. I cannot remember when a I last discovered a fragrance so thrilling and Rouge is the perfect example of a novel, unusual scent that is still wearable. It’s a stroke of genius.
What was your favourite perfume launch this year?
So that’s 2020 in perfume. Not too shabby, huh? Now we’re in 2021 and I wish you all happiness and most importantly, good health over the next 12 months. Things will continue to be tough for a while, this we know, but at some point we will be through all of this mess *gestures at the world*. Until then, let’s console ourselves with good perfume. Happy new year!
Images are my own. Samples provided by brands throughout the year for review. I was not paid for featuring any of these products. Designer Parfums (F1 Fragrances) is a client of Olfiction, the consultancy I work for.