Mad Max in black leather, burning up the roads. A bomb blast that left bubbling, tarry, rubbery asphalt. The burning, black tire bonfires used as smoke signals in Black Hawk Down. Vetiver on steroids, then nuked with napalm. Peppermints and candy canes at Christmas. Peaty single-malt Scotch, and aged cognac. The quiet, firm, confident masculinity of Gary Cooper or Rhett Butler which hides a sensitive heart. And, beatnik patchouli from the 1960s “Summer of Love.”
Those incongruous, contradictory thoughts are what come to mind when I wear Jovoy Paris‘ fragrance, Private Label. Most hardcore perfumistas have heard of Jovoy, a Paris boutique that is a mecca for buying the most high-end, exclusive, or rare fragrances. What many people don’t know is that Jovoy was once a perfume house going back to the Roaring Twenties, and “known for selling perfumes for the ‘gentlemen’s nieces’, a polite way Parisian dandies described buying gifts for their mistresses[.]” The house declined in the bleak years of the Depression, and ended completely during WWII, but it was resurrected in 2006 by Francois Hénin who launched a new range of fragrances.
In 2012, Private Label joined their ranks. It is an eau de parfum created by Cécile Zarokian, and Aedes says that it was “commissioned for a Jovoy client looking for a strong, oriental fragrance that is masculine, woody and ‘oud-free’.” Private Label is actually Francois Hénin’s personal favorite, his “ideal oriental scent.” He says, “This is the archetypal parfum de silage: it leaves a distinct trail while remaining consistent over time.” Luckyscent lists its notes as follows:
Papyrus, vetiver, leather, patchouli, sandalwood, Cistus labdanum
Each and every time I smell Private Label from afar, my immediate first impression is peppermints. To be precise: twisted, deranged, napalm-smoked, nuclear, apocalyptic, smoked peppermints in the middle of the snowiest pine forest somewhere in Siberia. It’s an impression that I can’t shake off, and it’s one I generally like.
The problem, however, is when I smell Private Label up close, as the result is distinctly less enchanting. In a nutshell, Private Label has a consistent structural backbone of burnt rubber and bubbling tar from a hot, melting asphalt road. The note is there in Private Label’s development from start to finish, varying only in its prominence, order of appearance, or forcefulness. It is always mentholated and camphorous, with a subtext of eucalyptus and peppermints, but also of sharp smoke and burnt rubber. Whenever I think that it has been tamed by patchouli, whenever I think that Private Label has been softened with labdanum amber and a big splash of aged cognac, I’ll smell another part of my arm, and that rubbery, Mad Max, medicinal, burnt napalm smell will suddenly pop back up.
Private Label lists “leather” in its notes and, yes, the fragrance is often summarized as a vetiver-leather fragrance. To me, however, that description doesn’t tell the whole story. On my skin, Private Label isn’t a leather fragrance so much as it is birch tar one. There is a huge difference to my mind. Huge. Birch tar is a resinous extract that has been traditionally used to coat and treat rawhide and, as such, the camphorous, pine-y, phenolic, sometimes sulphurous ingredient is often used in perfumery to replicate the aroma of a certain type of black “leather.”
The Perfume Shrine states that “[r]endering a leather note in perfumery is a challenge for the perfumer[,]” and that what is “actually used” to create that olfactory impression are vegetal or synthetic ingredients which can include birch tar, juniper cade and quinoline. To my nose, Jovoy Private Label reflects multiple facets of each of these notes which really dominate the fragrance’s overall bouquet for much of its evolution. I could tell you that Private Label smells of “leather” and smoke, but those general terms have the potential to give you a very misleading impression of this utterly uncompromising, aggressively intense, very hardcore scent.
So, let’s take a look at The Perfume Shrine’s explanation of what the key notes actually smell like:
Birch: Betula Alba, the tree known as birch [….] Traditionally used in tanneries in Russia, Finland and Northern Europe in general, its bark produces birch tar and resin, an intensely wintergreen and tar-like odour, which has been used in Cuir de Russie type of scents in the distant past.
Juniper and cade oil:
Juniper trees produce dark viscuous oil (cade) upon getting burned which possesses a smoky aroma that reminds one of campfires in the forests. Also used in Cuir de Russie type of scents in the past along with birch. […]
The major revolution in the production of leathery notes in perfumery came in the 1880s with the apparition of quinolines, a family of aromachemicals with a pungent leather and smoke odour that was used in the production of the modern Cuir de Russie scents appearing at the beginning of the 20th century such as Chanel’s (1924) as well as in Caron’s Tabac Blond (1919), Lanvin’s Scandal (1933) and, most importantly, Piguet’s Bandit (1944). […][¶]
isobutyl quinoline … possesses a fiercely potent odour profile described as earthy, rooty, and nutty, echoing certain facets of oakmoss and vetiver and blending very well with both. Isobutyl quinoline also has ambery, woody, tobacco-like undertones: a really rich aromachemical!
I suspect all three things are used in Jovoy’s Private Label when it summarily mentions mere “leather.” The perfume is a vetiver scent in many ways, but it is vetiver transformed into one living in Mad Max’s world, a scent that the Road Warrior would wear with its uncompromising smoke, tar, asphalt, and rubber facets. If any of you love the toughness of Robert Piguet‘s vintage Bandit and the birch tar smoke of Andy Tauer‘s Lonestar Memories, but want both taken up a notch and infused with smoked vetiver, then Jovoy’s Private Label is for you.
Private Label opens on my skin with a forceful blast of mentholated tar, medicinal astringent, chewy patchouli, smoky vetiver, and piney juniper-cade smoke. The patchouli has hints of aged cognac underlying it, but its more dominant nuance is an earthy, almost medicinal, slightly mentholated note that evokes a black, 1960s “head shop,” hippie scent. Private Label most definitely has leather seeping all throughout, infusing all the other notes, but as explained above, this is really birch tar and cade “leather.” It smells like campfire bonfires, smoked rubber, diesel fuel, and a tarmac set aflame until the asphalt is hot, almost bubbling, and smoking. I rarely think that notes have a heated temperature, but the “leather” in Private Label starts off feeling as though the piney, sulphurous resin has been set on fire.
One reviewer for the fragrance had a very different impression of both the note and Private Label’s opening blast. For Freddie of Smelly Thoughts, the leather made him think of a rubber dildo. No, he said that, really!
Private Label opens with a harsh, nail-varnish leather. A raw, earthy, smoky vetiver comes in quickly and together – the combination is pretty foul. It smells black and rubbery (yes, dildo was the first word that came into my head then too), with squeaky vinyl (stop!!!), and underneath, a resinous amber (lots of labdanum), a bit of incense and other bitter greens that just make it worse and worse.
I can see why he’d think that way, but I don’t hate it the way he does, and a large reason why may be due to the peppermints. On my skin, the patchouli’s underlying sweetness interacts with the mentholated, chilled accord to create a definite, very strong impression of hard-boiled, peppermint sweets. Christmas candy canes, perhaps, except these have been burnt and are emitting a sweet-bitter smokiness that is infused with eucalyptus. It’s an interesting aroma, and makes Private Label quite an arresting fragrance. From afar.
Ten minutes in, Private Label starts the slow (very, very slow) process towards softness and mellowness. The labdanum starts to move in the base, the aged cognac and sweet peppermint elements increase, and Private Label loses some of that bubbling asphalt feel. It’s a fractional change, though, as the perfume’s primary scent is that of the darkest, smokiest vetiver mixed with the very tarriest, smokiest, eucalyptus, cade rubber. It is simultaneously bone-dry, and sticky with chewy patchouli earthiness and the minty sweetness.
As time passes, the amber and vetiver elements becomes more dominant, and the birch-cade tar recedes, but it takes a lot of time and the rubber element never fully vanishes. What is interesting to me is the contrast between the mentholated, sweet peppermint, candy canes in the top layer, and the aged cognac in the bottom. In some ways, there is almost a peaty, single malt Scotch vibe to Private Label.
Around the second hour, when the juniper tar has receded to glower menacingly and threateningly from the sidelines, the other notes create a lovely winter bouquet from afar. I think of pine forests in the snow, candy canes on Christmas trees, aged cognac in a snifter beside a leather armchair by a warm, amber fire, and a chimney that is lightly smoking. It’s a visual that shatters whenever that resinous, burning,tar pops back up, skipping around different parts of my arm to show up at different times, and always taking me back to Mad Max in an apocalyptic world where the men are clothed in black, rubbery leather and the sole plant left on earth is a vetiver bush turned mutant through a napalm bomb.
The core essence of Private Label doesn’t change for hours on end. All that happens is a fluctuation in the prominence of certain notes, and a dropping of the fragrance’s sillage. After 60-minutes, Private Label hovers about 3 inches above my skin; by the end of the fourth hour, it is a skin scent, though it remains extremely potent when sniffed up close. The prominence of the smoke elements varies, with the birch tar seeming softer and more manageable for a brief period around the second hour. Then, suddenly, at the start of the third hour, Private Label somehow seems even smokier! Though the mentholated notes are much less, the vetiver has overtaken the birch tar as the dominant element, and my word, is it dark! I’ve never encountered vetiver that is quite so smoked. This is not smooth vetiver like in Chanel’s Sycomore, but some sort of mutant hybrid created in a peaty bonfire.
The vetiver continues to dominate the rest of Private Label’s development. By the end of the fourth hour, the perfume is a peppermint-eucalyptus vetiver over a soft amber infused with patchouli, cognac, leather, menthol, and the tiniest hint of sandalwood. It is soft in sillage, but still sharp and hard in actual scent. By the start of the seventh hour, Private Label is a peppermint vetiver over amber. The burnt rubber element continues to pop up here and there, hiding behind the other notes on some parts of my arm, while smelling of full-on acrid smoke and melting asphalt on a few tiny patches. In Private Label’s very final moments, the fragrance is merely a blur of woody sweetness with lingering traces of sharpness, rubber and smoke. All in all, it consistently lasted over 12 hours on my skin, with soft sillage but sharp notes.
I’m very torn on Private Label. The whole thing is a medley that, at times, fascinates and intrigues. At other times, however, it bewilders with a bit of cacophony, and those occasions tend to trump the more positive ones. From afar, it can be really pretty, but do you want a fragrance that you sometimes don’t dare to smell close up lest you singe your nostrils? I’m also not sure how versatile the perfume is, because it feels like a definite mood scent. Would anyone want to wear Private Label outside the snowy months of winter? Still, the seasonal issue doesn’t seem to matter so much as the gender one.
I generally believe that all fragrances are unisex in nature, but I think Private Label definitely skews more masculine. I suspect a number of women would recoil sharply at the fragrance, finding it medicinal, “chemical” (to quote one disgusted woman who smelled it on my arm), pungently aggressive, and unpleasantly rubbery. Hell, even some men do, judging by the reaction of Freddie from Smelly Thoughts. And he’s a chap with very avant-garde, extreme tastes!
However, I think that there is a narrow group of people who may very much enjoy Private Label: men and women who adore vetiver, but who also love birch tar, smoky fragrances, mentholated eucalyptus blends, and black leather notes. For me, it’s as though Andy Tauer’s Lonestar Memories and Naomi Goodsir‘s Bois d’Ascece had a swingers’ orgy with bucketfuls of tarry cade, a very hippie Woodstock patchouli, Santa Claus’ peppermint-eucalyptus muscle rub, Olivier Durbano‘s Black Tourmaline, and Serge Lutens‘ Fille en Aiguilles. Nine months later, the baby that resulted was Private Label.
If that sounds like an odd fragrance that is far too harsh, I should add that I also see softness lurking in Private Blend’s heart. On the right man and the right skin, Private Blend would be a smoking hot fragrance, oozing sex appeal. It is a scent that exudes tough, confident masculinity but with glimpses of an underlying softness and sensitivity. The smoky rubber side might seem appropriate for Christian Bale’s Dark Knight, but I can’t help but also see Gary Cooper or Clark Gable’s Rhett Butler wearing Private Label. Peppermints, tough leather, smoky woods, aged cognac, and amber seem like an incredibly sexy combination. If I close my eyes, I can actually conjure up the man who would wear this, and envision sniffing the scent wafting from his neck. It would be damn hot.
On Fragrantica, guys seem to love Private Label, calling it a fragrance that is unapologetically masculine, or perfect for a true vetiver lover. Take one commentator, “Alfarom,” who writes:
Probably my favorite among this line…at least so far.
A no-compromise, extremely woody-earthy, peatchouli-vetiver concoction enriched by warm leathery undertones (castoreum?) and dry sandalwood facets. What’s not to like? Absolutely assertive and straight forward. It has an overall “familiar” vibe which I can’t currently put my finger on but the general feel of the composition, is of something “pushed to the limits”.
If you like unapologetic, masculine, dark-&-dry fragrances, you have to try this.
Outstanding projection and extremely good lasting power.
Others echo his words and general impression:
- probably one of the most true to life vetiver fragrances out there. the leather creates something dark and smoky that is balanced by a good dose of sandalwood.
- One Of The Best Fragrances Money Can Buy, Fullstop
- As if a sandalwood/Champaca/patchouli incense stick has been liquefied. Resinous, smokey and altogether as perfectly done as any fragrance can get. There is a hint of sweetness that makes me reminisce of another fragrance, but I can’t put my finger on which one it is. Guaic wood isn’t mentioned but it seems to make an appearance.
- A very sexy, dry and smoky vetiver. This is a fragrance for true vetiver lovers. Very well balanced and a truly finished product. Excellent sillage and longevity. This one is a 10 out of 10 for me.
I think Private Label is too potentially difficult a scent to buy blindly (not that I ever recommend that in general!), and it’s certainly not for me, but I do think it would be a great fragrance for a very narrow group of people. If you love deeply smoky juniper cade, mentholated birch tar, rubbered black leather, chewy patchouli, and peaty, smoked vetiver, you should give Private Label a sniff. When I say that it would be “smokin’ hot,” I mean it in all senses of the phrase, good and bad….
Disclosure: I obtained my sample from Jovoy itself, but it was while I was in the store, browsing as a customer. My sample was not given to me for the purposes of a review. I do not do paid reviews, and my opinions are my own.