Shopping smarter in 2020 means investing in things that make you feel good—like a new fragrance. Studies show that scent has the power to evoke positive associations that will improve your mood and reduce stress. Certain scents can improve memory, productivity, concentration, sustained attention and cognitive function. Basically, fragrance can do a whole lot more than make you smell good. And in a year of solitude, uncertainty, and the dismantling of the Supreme Court justice system as we know it, fragrance just might be one of those simple antidotes to situations and circumstances far beyond our control. In short, a great perfume is never a bad idea. And there are no shortage of excellent options for 2020.
Here, we've rounded up the very best launches from the year and sprinkled in a few iconic classics that deserve your attention, too. Ahead you'll find raucous floral bouquets, earthy ouds, and fragrances with backstories dynamic enough to warrant an on-screen adaptation. There are gourmands that may make your tummy growl, orientals that will pique your interest in the exotic, and fruity options that are anything but frivolous. There are no hard and fast rules for identifying fragrances you like—if something you read about appeals to you, be sure to try it on your own skin, as individual chemistries can transform an accord. From musky warm fragrances to fresh florals, allow us to present an array of new scents arriving just in time for a new year of memories.
It would have been very easy for Kilian Hennessy to ride on the coattails of his family's famed cognac. (Honestly, I probably would have.) Instead, he set to create a new luxury brand with an identity equal parts unique and opulent. This latest offering is part of a collection that plays tribute to liquor, and in particular, gin on the rocks. Cucumber and juniper create an icy aspect, that's rounded out with rose centifolia, sandalwood and musk. Also? Doesn't the bottle look like a crystal-cut rocks glass?
It's 2020, ladies, and even the perfumes are woke. Instead of being just saccharine sweet, or just earthy musk, this pretty in pink bottle does both, balancing the caramel goodness of praline with the zest of orange blossom and the grounded essence of patchouli. It's a new type of feminine and we're here for it.
Grandmas and heiresses wear Chanel No. 5—but when it's formulated as an airy body spray adjacent, suddenly girl bosses and Gen Z'ers love it too. Reviewers rave that the original Chanel No. 5 was nostalgic but a little too dusty, and this modern interpretation was just the update they needed.
In the great words of Usher: "My way, my way / What I say, goes / And I'm in control." This deftly named fragrance really embodies the same essence: A person finding their own way in the world, all through the notes of tuberose, vanilla and Egyptian orange blossom. And lest you think a bottle is just a bottle, get a load of this: The blue cap represents Mother Earth, encircled by a golden ring that symbolizes the encounters we make along our...way.
For those unfamiliar, Parfums de Marly launched in celebration of King Louis XV, a known fragrancephile. The name shouts out the Château de Marly, a party hotspot for the Royal Court and foreign dignitaries. This special elixir smells of milk rose, peach, apricot and lychee, with a slow burn of oud and woodsy amber. Also: Sue me, I love a fragrance with a tassel.
In the world of poetry, bodega bouquets, and fragrance, the rose stands alone as a singular floral selection. Here, the layered blossom is paired alongside sparkling jasmine, for a floral accord that is at once familiar and exotic, rich and smooth. A hint of citrus, a splash of pear, and a few grindings of pink peppercorn add an unexpected gourmand excellence to this clean fragrance.
Ugh I can't help it I love a novelistic fragrance inspiration! The time: 15th century Florence. (Can you hear the lutes and the dulcimers in the yonder?) The setting: A brambling countryside orchard, at the peek of freshness. The scent: The excellent stone fruit plum, juicy apple, and the zip of lemon bloom. The trained among us will also pick up Renaissance roses and white carnation, for a old school tribute that's anything but stuffy.
Gardenia—a heady white floral—is a go-to in olfactory compositions for a few reasons, including but not limited to its strong perspective, its innate coolness, and its ability to play well with other notes. No surprise, then, that when Gucci does gardenia, the results are gorgeous. Here, it's partnered with red berries and pear for a captivating tribute.
Back in the early aughts, I had to tell people I liked men's colognes when I was drawn to scents that had both an earthy and floral appeal. But the future is now, and perfumers have created unisex scents and I feel seen. This woody floral combines cedarwood with orange flower, topped off with the inimitable pink pepper, for an essence that feels soothing and exciting, calm but ready for what lies ahead.
I don't know who needs to hear this, but fruity fragrances are not frivolous—you can take the famed fragrance house of Yves Saint Laurent's word for it. Red berries, which have a punchy, juicy aspect, are grounded with datura flower and white musk, for a romantic but not cloying story.
This iconic classic launched in 1985, so it's no wonder it reminds me of my mother, getting ready for work in a cloud of rose, lily, tuberose and orange flowers, armored by impressive shoulder pads and a shellack of hairspray. Don't let my fragrance memory throw you, though. There's nothing dated about this shimmering feminine cocktail, a go-to for floral fanatics.
Sorry not sorry. Flowerbomb is canon and I'm not interested in any detractors. When the Amsterdam design team of Viktor & Rolf set off to create their first fragrance in 2005, the goal was to design a floral explosion. Mission accomplished, but not in a blow-your-hair-back kind of way. Instead, the combination of cattleyas, freesia, sambac jasmine and rose petals feels breezy, not gusty, and is held down by a refined patchouli and soothing vanilla. Wearable, not basic, and worth your attention.
Don't let the memorable TV commercials—shoutout Charlize—fool you. This 1999 launch with its deep bouquet of ylang ylang, Damascus rose, and Grasse harvested jasmine is the ultimate in sophistication and sensuality. Encircled with the tingle of orange blossom, it's smartly balanced, sunny, but not silly.
Here's a fun one even studied fragrancephiles may have overlooked: Designed by Norwegian perfumer Gier Ness, this offering pays tribute to his mother Laila, who raised her son with regular expeditions to the country's famed mountains and fjords. (That's her signature silkscreened on the bottle.) As for the notes: Close your eyes and enjoy the very best of the country's delicate wildflowers, dancing alongside lavender and mountain air.
Some balk at the price of fragrances, but when you hear the processes that go into them, sometimes they can almost feel like a bargain. Case in point: To extract a single ounce of this creation, producers tap 15,000 flowers and 250 raw materials. If the backstory doesn't delight you, allow the silken radiance of (get ready for it) jasmine, tuberose, lily of the valley, rose, ylang ylang, carnation, broom flower, orange blossom and clove to take you away.
The iconic Valentino stud bedecks this stately little bottle, a tribute to the Roma-based haute-couture house. Inside, you'll find an unparalleled floriental elixir, blending jasmine with vanilla bourbon, one of the world's most expensive and exclusive extracts. The result is sweeping and sturdy, like the Roman architecture that inspired its creation.
In a less work society, we may have called this woody floral aura a cologne. Today, we'll go and call it nothing short of extraordinary. Moroccan bitter almond and Grandiflorum jasmine from Egypt nod to worldly travels, opportunity, and discovery.
Fragrance legend has it that before Prada sold this Iris-forward cocktail on the open markets, those in the know could pick up samples at Prada boutiques worldwide. But good things don't stay secret for long. so in 2007, the fragrance—which is light, wispy, and embodies a quiet elegance—entered the open market, and I'm happy it did. Do try it on your skin, tho. It's delicacy doesn't translate well atop those paper tester tabs.
There are some women in New York and Los Angeles who embody this calm-coolness—great clothes, great partner, career success—and always seem to have an iced coffee and a fully charged phone. I am not one of those women, but I can still wear Mojave Ghost and feel like one. At the center of this scent is a funny little flower, the Mojave Ghost, which (!) cannot produce nectar in its own native arid climate. Instead, it attractors pollinators by imitating a separate species, not unlike me parading around like someone who knows what they're doing.
Some people want to smell wealthy, and to those people, YSL offers Libre, a daring combination of Moroccan orange blossom and rowdy oakmoss musk. This also marks the inclusion of a brand-new and proprietary note exclusive to YSL called Diva Lavender, an elevated isolate of the weedy purple flower.
Scent snobs may turn their nose up, quite literally, at cosmetic companies making fragrances, but if there were ever a time to reconsider, this watery aquatic is just the ticket. Enjoy notes of anemone, lotus, and Coriscan blue cedar, and remind yourself that yes, someday you'll travel again to the sea (and not just smell it on your wrist).
A clever stack of Australian sandalwood, papyrus, cedarwood mingle to evoke a crackling fire essence, which is dried down with spicy, leathery, and musky notes. The inspiration here was the free spirit and tireless ingenuity of the American West; what draws me in, in particular, is the spicy inclusion of cardamom, iris, violet and ambrox, which feel homey, even out on the frontier.
If you aren't familiar with the Replica series from Margiela, indulge in a little Googling, but the gist is this: Each scent attempts to create, almost exactly, pivotal memories and experiences in the designer's life. The resulting scents manage to be at once deeply personal and somewhat universal, like this gusty combination of twinkling juniper and red seaweed, which brings to mind a sailing day spent on the stern, listing to the halyard clang against the main, as waves lap against the hull.
Diptyque: Not just a candle, anymore. And lucky for us! Here, Yves Coueslant, one of the brand's three founders, shares an indelible childhood memory of the tuberose blossoms that were sprinkled in the temple offerings of his youth. His father had built a pagoda on a Vietnamese bay, where Coueslant spent many a borderless day. The air was cool, the flowers sweet, and the memory of innocence in Indochine everlasting.
I had the rare opportunity to frolic through the sun-struck fields of Grasse, France with Dior and play flower farmer for the day in the exact place the rose absolute oil in this perfume is grown. I learned that it takes 3,000kg of Grasse roses to make 1kg of essence. Farmers wake up at 4 a.m. every morning and pick thousands of flowers from the jasmine harvest to create this vibrant floral fragrance. A tangy splash of citrus notes accompanies the key rose note, which will sensorially transport you to the South of France.
The first time I stepped foot in Paris, I fell madly in love. The style, architecture, and energy of the city is the epitome of chic. If you're charmed by the elegance of Paris, this perfume will win you over, as it's meant to embody the breath of the city. Created by Parisian perfumer Olivier Pescheux and designed by illustrator Pierre Marie, the unexpected combination of roses, patchouli, and bergamot smells like a nightcap at Hôtel Costes (if you know, you know).
If you can't tell from this cool bottle, this ain't your grandmother's vanilla, friends, it's way too sexy. Inside the sleek silver and black bottle, you'll experience a warm whiff of vanilla bourbon coupled with woody notes of vetiver, lavender, and clary sage, topped off with cardamom and grapefruit tea. Actually, what you should do is gift this to your grandma so she can get her groove back.
Although spring seems like a distant memory, this fresh floral scent will make you feel like you're amid a colorful maze of blooming wildflowers. If you just close your eyes and sniff, you may forget it's winter. Imagine being surrounded by orange flower petals, white peony, and rose centifolia tuberose absolute, which are sprinkled with notes of pink pepper and lemon.
Studies show that fragrance has the power to improve your mood, reduce stress, and relax stiff muscles. As The Nue Co notes, this is a "a fragrance with a function." The brand built this scent from data and research conducted around our cognitive functions in relation to sensory systems. These notes of green cardamom, iris, palo santo, violet and cedarwood will calm your stress levels, so consider it zen in a bottle.
The shape of this bottle probably already has your attention. And if you're indecisive, you'll enjoy the juxtaposition of this floral-musky-combo. Its sweet notes of orange blossom, tuberose, white poppy, paired with strong base notes of musk, vetiver, patchouli creates an interesting contrast.
My joys of winter include cozy fireplaces, a warm cup of cider, weighted blankets...and sultry scents. I stick with heavy, full-body fragrances in the winter and switch to lighter, fresh florals come spring. As far as January's bone-chilling weather's concerned, this warm white suede, with musky notes of saffron, thyme, suede, and musk fits the bill. It's spicy enough for date night, too.