What an année formidable we have completed, n’est-ce pas? And yet! While all the world has been racked with political turmoil, medical emergency, and a crisis of belief in the very foundations of society, the great fragrance houses of America and Europe have not been idle. On the contrary, they have created an array of perfumes explicitly inspired by our unique moment.
We celebrate them below. Voila: our list of the Best Perfumes for the year to end all years, 2020.
- How can the flower of love take root when, in person, the mask consigns to every man and woman the face of a giant praying mantis, and the remoteness of Zoom and FaceTime serve to thwart attraction? Hence the sensational popularity of Nomance, by Ralph Lauren. An intoxicating blend of frangipani flower, ylang-ylang, tuberose, and laudanum, it accomplishes the miracle of bewitching you, the user. You find yourself irresistible. Thus you assume that he does as well.
- Someone will ask, “What if, in my unending solitude, I cannot face the futility of attempting to obtain a lover?” For her, there is My Shin, by Lanvin. A re-formulation of the classic André Fraysse creation c. 1925, this earthy yet somehow floral combination of beeswax, rosewood, knee socks, and Stilton manages—it is alchemy—to smell like your own leg. Experience it, and know the true meaning of being self-sufficient, of being enough, of being you.
- You are on lockdown at home, required to remain there for weeks on end. You are wearied of the look, the sound, and, perhaps worst of all, the odor of your own dwelling. For you, there is Lair du Tom, by Nina Ricci. It is created to make you think are in the apartment of Tom. Do not ask who Tom is, or if, indeed, he exists. Merely be grateful that his place is redolent of a bracing, masculine mix of cascarilla, agarwood, frozen pizza, Febreze, and cat. Bienvenue!
- Are you, like so many, avidly watching the television? Bingeing on this or that, and succumbing to an existential nausea when a series ends? Console yourself, then, with several delightful drops of Channel No. 5 by—who else?—Chanel. Based (somewhat) on the most classic scent of all time, with its floral top notes of jasmine and orris root, its middle register of Grasse rose and floor dust, and its grounding hints of resin-core solder, molded plastic, AAA-batteries, and mint chocolate chip ice cream, this, truly, is what it smells like to watch tv.
- You (bravely, impossibly) leave the house—for a socially-distanced outdoor dinner party, perhaps. An attractive stranger catches your eye. He wishes to draw nearer than the required six feet. But it must not be. Can this impasse be resolved? It can if you are wearing Nopium, by Yves Saint Laurent. This revised version of Jean-Louis Sieuzac’s 1977 classic brings together sandalwood, Mandarin orange, patchouli, and the merest hint of tear gas to create an unmistakable message: Draw near at your peril.
- What does one do when confined to the home? When there are no parties, no lunches, no excursions, no dates? One eats. Small wonder, then, the recent popularity of Cocoa, Mademoiselle?, also from Chanel. Exploiting the pioneer food-based work of Thierry Mugler’s Angel, these genius perfumers have created an elixir synthesizing the very essence of chocolate, milk, vanilla, and tacky little marshmallows. Bon appetit!
- The disease rampages. The economy contracts. You are laid off from work. Funds are scarce. For you, there is Recession, from Calvin Klein. Its fragrance is like no scent you have ever experienced before, because it has no scent. Its stylish plastic flacon contains little—in truth, nothing–but air. Let those with jobs indulge in scent. This, for now, will satisfy.
- For whom, one wonders, does one dress? The pandemic has revealed an answer: for others. When there are no others, or when others see us only on screens, from the waist up, we revert to comfort and informality. It is with this in mind that Tom Ford has created Unbelievably Dumpy Sweatpants—For Her. A transcendent blend of amber, musk, dryer lint, red wine, and tired elastic, it conjures an olfactory embodiment of the casual, indifferent, “oh, fuck it” sloppy lifestyle.
- Daily, the news confronts us with rising totals of the ill, the dispossessed, the dead. Can any mere perfume offer solace and uplift at such a time of fear, anxiety, remorse, and outrage? It can if it is Oy, by Jean Patou. Based on what once billed itself as “the most expensive perfume in the world,” in its depths you will find lily-of-the-valley, rose, coca leaf extract, and essence-of-Xanax in a peerless formulation.
- Our home-bound routine serves to smother one’s sense of time. One scarcely knows what day of the week it is. For the woman who wonders if she has been enduring this sense of dyschronometria since March, or since forever, there is Eternity, by Calvin Klein. Do not wonder what it comprises. Know only that, in its embrace, it provides a distraction from the real. And is that not the raison d’etre of fragrance?