Garnet wine and rubied roses with iridescent flashes of green-black earthiness; tart, tangy cherries with bitter almonds; syrupy fruits and sweet dessert — these are a few of the faces of Sadanne, a new fragrance from Slumberhouse, an indie brand out of Portland, Oregon run by the highly respected, talented Josh Lobb. I found his latest creation to be joyous, bright, and cheerful, not to mention very fun to wear. At times, Sadanne took me deep into Germany’s Black Forest with its tart Kirschwasser liqueur centered on sour Morello cherries and bitter almonds. On other occasions, it conjured up “Old Vines” Zinfandel wine with a dash of fruity Pinot Noir, and Ernest Dawson’s famous phrase about “days of wine and roses.” In short, it feels like an alcoholic’s gourmand interpretation of roses, and I don’t mean that in a bad way at all. Regular readers know just how much I love boozy, alcoholic, or wine-like notes in my perfumes. (I swear, I’m not a lush!)
Theoretically, Sadanne is a rose fragrance, but it was created by a man who shudders at the note and has always avoided making any floral scent up until now. I share Mr. Lobb’s squeamishness, and prefer my roses to be gagged, drowned, and then beaten to a whimpering pulp by other elements — preferably of an oriental nature. So when I heard that a rose-hater had made a rose fragrance that he could wear, partially as a challenge to himself, I knew I had to try it. I’m glad I did.
Mr. Lobb kindly sent me a bottle of Sadanne, and also wrote to me about its inspiration and character. It’s just as well, because the Slumberhouse website talks about the new fragrance with Lutenesque obliqueness:
Stained glass syrup
Serenades in damascone minor
Allegory obscured / pastel wound
A slurry of subtlety
note list unavailable.
In an email to me, Mr. Lobb provided more details, explaining not only how Sadanne was meant to push him out of his comfort zone as a perfumer, but also how he perceives the fragrance. He gave me permission to quote him:
[T]here were things I never thought I’d touch. I’ve never been drawn to florals, and of all the flowers out there nothing pushed me away more than rose. I just hate looking at the word rose, in print. But after Zahd, I knew I wanted to expand my horizons and challenge myself as well as those into my line.
Nothing was more challenging to me than the prospect of a rose perfume. Instead of going for something dark and dusky I went in a very different direction, almost alien. When creating it I tried to keep in mind the idea of a scent not born from this world, hence not releasing a note list for this release. I wanted something glossy and shimmery but with an undercarriage of juxtaposition, introspective, slightly menacing.
I find absolutely nothing “alien” or “menacing” in Sadanne, but rather something incredibly happy, bright, and cheery — and that is one reason why I found Sadanne so enjoyable to wear. In fact, there are times when I’d call Sadanne positively playful and reeking of innocence. So, in that regard, Mr. Lobb’s mission for “menace” did not succeed, at least for me.
As for the notes in Sadanne, he won’t say what they are. Mr. Lobb frequently uses extremely unusual ingredients that I’ve never heard of and have to research (I’ll never get over his “Dittany of Crete” in Ore), so it almost seems pointless to guess what exactly is involved here. Still, I’m a little OCD and enjoy a challenge, so I couldn’t resist taking a stab at the note list. It turns out that almost all the ingredients I guessed, other than the obvious rose, were incorrect. I’m stumped, but highly amused. Nevertheless, you might be interested in the elements I smelt on my skin (as opposed to what was actually used), and what my guess had been for the note list:
Rose, pink lotus blossom absolute, cherries, raspberries, bitter almonds, violets, earthiness, balsamic resins, bitter almonds, and something mossy or green.
Interestingly, one of Sadanne’s stockists, the Portland boutique of Alder & Co., thinks the scent has a very different profile:
Syrupy strawberry and animalic ambergris swirl together in this intoxicating elixir. Balsamic and rich, Sådanne proves to be another unique and beautiful addition to the Slumberhouse line.
Sadanne never opens on my skin quite the same way, because the small details always differ. The broad brush strokes, however, remain consistent in the first few minutes, and they invariably boil down to: “syrupy fruits.” To be more precise, a flood of heavily sweetened, syrupy fruits which gushes over the rose in a bouquet that always feels like some form of dessert.
The finer points have varied from wearing to wearing. Twice, it was cherry Kool-Aid — both the drink and the finely crystallized powder — that encrusted the leaves of a pale pink rose. Twice, it was a dark, vermillion rose with iridescent black-greenness that grew out of musky, ripe earth and was then drenched with tart Morello cherries. I’m a cherry addict, and can eat pounds of the fruit in one sitting, so this opening entranced me with its sour tanginess. The fifth time I wore Sadanne, I finally encountered the strawberries mentioned in the Alder & Co. description, and I was not enthused. I’ll talk more about the strawberries later, but, as I sit here writing and wearing Sadanne for the sixth time, I’m back to different forms of cherries and roses, so that seems to be the perfume’s main focus on my skin.
I think Sadanne is a fragrance that rewards close attention. On the surface, it consistently seems like syrupy fruits with fluctuating levels of rose, and little else. If you focus, however, you can see small details emerge like fine brushstrokes of colour on an extremely colourful canvas. For example, there are wisps of purple from a touch of violets that appeared in my Kool-Aid version of the fragrance, dancing around the pale pink rose in a way that reminded me of YSL‘s vintage Paris. A light dusting of powdered sweetness accentuated the impression, and the rather girlish feel to the scent. Tiny flickers of raspberry, bitter almonds, and damp earthiness rounded up the tale.
All but one of my versions of Sadanne eventually lead to the same place, centered on a darker, tarter, more balsamic and liqueured fragrance, sometimes sooner rather than later. I wasn’t fond of the Kool-Aid version, but even that is only a momentary bouquet which begins to change within 15 minutes or so. Sadanne’s extreme sweetness and the powdered, fruity crystals begin to dissipate, and a mossy greenness takes their place. Roughly 30 minutes in, the rose becomes more liqueured in feel, while the cherries turn into the same sort of concentrated, reduced balsamic vinegar glaze that marked the cranberries in Slumberhouse’s Zahd. The fruits are now like a cherry cordial that is tart and tangy instead of sugared, powdery, or granular.
As the dark, ruby wine seeps over the petals, Sadanne begins to change. It slowly loses its girlish YSL/Paris resemblance, the rose turns from pink to vermillion, and the drink goes from Kool-Aid to a grown-up’s after-dinner digestif to accompany a tart cherry pie. It all reminds me terribly of Kirschwasser, an unsweetened fruit brandy that is served in Germany as an after-dinner digestif. As Wikipedia explains, this is an eau de vie that is not sweet like regular Kirsch because it is made from sour Morello cherries. It also has an undertone of bitter almond that derives from the stones. All of that is exactly what is happening here on my skin.
Roughly 45 minutes into its development, Sadanne feels like tart Kirschwasser that has been reduced down and concentrated a hundred-fold, atop a thin layer of ruby rose. By the start of the second hour, the liqueur has completely overwhelmed (if not buried) the flower, and it’s also had a serious dampening effect on the tiny flickers of violet and earthiness as well. It takes an incredibly long time for the rose to become dominant again, as much as 10 hours or so in this incredibly long-lasting fragrance. At that point, the rose turns back to its pale pink shade again, but it remains lightly imbued with a touch of tangy cherries and a drop of bitter almonds. Sadanne endures unchanged with that bouquet until its very end, roughly 18 hours from the start.
The cherry Kirschwasser version of Sadanne frequently made me want to lick my arm, but it’s not as good or as interesting as the 2nd version of Sadanne with its more wine-like, red Zinfandel roses infused with darkness, deep earthiness, and flashes of green. In two of my tests, Sadanne opened immediately with an earthy, almost woody rose, flecked with darkness and only a touch of cherries.
The earthy note is hard to pinpoint or explain. It is not precisely like black soil, either damp or dry. Nor is it exactly like the riper, more animalic, muskier aroma of mulch. It’s a mix of both things. On a rare occasion, it also has the sort of robust, dark aroma that you get from used coffee or expresso grinds. The only word which keeps coming to mind is “fecund,” in the sense that William Faulkner used it throughout his novel, Light in August: namely, a deeply earthy ripeness. (The word is indelibly linked in my mind to his book and his Lena, a character who I once recall being described in terms of a flower blooming out of rich, black earth.)
Behind the earthy rose lurk other elements. There is a note of bitter almonds which accompanies the cherries, but much more significant is the greenness which contrasts against the rose’s darkness. Like the earthy undertone, the greenness is hard to describe. It’s nothing like the fusty, mineralized sort of oakmoss that you encounter in classic chypres, nor is it like the plush greenness of patchouli. Instead, it’s a multi-faceted element that reminds me repeatedly of the Pink Lotus Blossom Absolute in Papillon Perfumes‘ glorious, stunning, dark, animalic, and leathery Anubis, one of the best fragrances that I’ve tried this year. Pink Lotus Blossom Absolute lies at the heart of Anubis, and its perfumer, Liz Moores, described its nature to me as follows:
Pink lotus absolute has the texture and appearance of thick black treacle and even when standardised with alcohol at 20% it loses none of its darkness. There is nothing pretty about this material; it is earthy and rich with flashes of green medicinal facets that appear and then disappear, morphing into subtle leather notes and re emerging like a floral washed oakmoss. It possesses a distinct headiness but not the type to make you swoon. It is far more contemplative and sharp.
There is a lot about pink lotus that reminds me of oakmoss and it behaves in a very similar way within a composition. The one difference I noticed between the two is that oakmoss lends a formula a more woody effect, rich in bark and moss notes whereas pink lotus shifts the focus more upon the green foliage and tannery aspects. When oakmoss and pink lotus are blended together the effects are simply stunning and I wonder if the ‘missing link’ with the restrictions on oakmoss can be successfully bridged using pink lotus. It will never and could never replicate oakmoss but when they sit side by side in a formula the pink lotus certainly amplifies the oakmoss notes. [Emphasis added by me.]
Josh Lobb assures me that there is no Pink Lotus Absolute in the Sadanne, but whatever he’s used feels identical to both Liz Moore’s description and to the note in Anubis (which also has a bit of rose in it, by the way, and which has now made me quite obsessed with Pink Lotus Absolute). Sadanne’s base has a definite vein of earthy, dark greenness with foliage notes and a treacly, balsamic feel. It’s all quite subtle at times, even more so as the perfume develops, alas, but when it flashes its iridescent colours, it adds some complexity to what would otherwise be quite a simple fragrance. And, man, is that part of Sadanne good.
Less than 10 minutes into its development, the cherry note in this version explodes like a supernova of tart, sour, tangy rubies. Thankfully, there are no Kool-Aid crystals dusted over these fruits, and no violets, either. However, Zahd’s balsamic vinegar reduction glaze does appear again. It’s different, though, as Sadanne has none of its sibling’s chocolate or sweeter undertones. Instead, thanks to the “Pink Lotus Blossom”-like element, it is darker and more tannic than anything in Zahd, and far less candied. This version of Sadanne doesn’t remind me of cherry cordials or Kirschwasser, but of an entirely different drink. To be precise, “Old Vines” aged, tannic Zinfandel wine lightly mixed with a touch of the fruitier, sweeter Pinot Noir, both with nuances of grapes as much as cherries, and the occasional wisp of raspberries.
At the end of the first hour, Sadanne is a wine-like rose with dashes of iridescent greenness atop an earthy base that resembles Pink Lotus Blossom Absolute. I found it interesting how the rose was much more front and center in this version. Yet, sooner or later, all the versions of Sadanne always end up being dominated by fruit on my skin. It’s a merely a slower progression this time around. For a full two hours, the rose is on show, but Sadanne slowly begins to shift. By the end of the 5th hour, the grapes and wine go head to head with the rose for dominance. Sometimes they win, sometimes the rose triumphs. At the same time, occasional wisps of raspberries appear, and the fecund, ripe earthiness begins to fade. Sadanne eventually loses all vestiges of both its greenness and that underlying darkness. As the layers peel back, all that is left is soft wine seamlessly blended with roses, cherries, and raspberries. Then, in its final moments, there are only the petals of a pale rose lightly flecked by an abstract fruitiness.
In talking with Mr. Lobb, he mentioned that some people encountered a “strawberries and champagne” fragrance, but I insisted that there were only cherries on my skin. Then, I tried Sadanne a fifth time…. This time, the fragrance opened with syrupy strawberries and painful, excessive sweetness that hit every one of my negative buttons.
For three full hours, the rose was heavily hidden behind a wave of Smuckers-like strawberry syrup, with little counterbalance in the form of tartness and absolutely no earthiness, darkness, greenness or liqueured notes. I have minimal tolerance for excessive sweetness, and even the prior versions of Sadanne had occasionally toyed with my upper limits, but this was going too far. I was filled with panicky thoughts of, “Get it off me, get it off me!” Admittedly, Sadanne does improve — eventually — and slowly takes on a less painful syrupness as a tiny droplet of tanginess emerges and a golden rose takes over. Nevertheless, as a whole, my response to the strawberry version of Sadanne was an absolute, very firm, “no es bueno.”
All of this brings me to something I found to be critical in experiencing Sadanne: quantity matters. I say this occasionally for a few fragrances, and did so for Zahd as well, but Sadanne is henceforth going to be my prime example that quantity may make a significant difference in terms of which version of the fragrance you experience and what notes are amplified. In a nutshell, all the versions that I’ve recounted to you here today go from Least to Most in terms of the amount of fragrance that I applied:
- The smallest amount of Sadanne (1 small spray) brought out the cherry Kool-Aid, its powder, the violets, and the YSL Paris connection, before turning into tart Kirschwasser.
- Using 1.5 sprays of Sadanne gave me an even shorter Kool-Aid period and far more tart cherry liqueur.
- The middle amount (2 to 2.5 sprays) gave me the best version of Sadanne with the most complexity, a more visible rose note, a lovely amount of the Pink Lotus Blossom-like undertones, the aged, tannic Zinfandel wine, and little of the Kool-Aid powder;
- The large amount of Sadanne (3 good sprays and up) led to catastrophe as the sweetness exploded in my face like a golden, strawberry syrup bomb that pulverized every atom of nuance, darkness, tartness, or counter-balance.
You should avoid that last version of Sadanne at all costs unless you simply adore feeling as though you’re covered with strawberry goo and are a hardcore gourmand fanatic. Frankly, I found it to be unbearable, though I do admit that things improved after 5 hours and the perfume slowly transitioned into a pale pink, fruity rose with less excruciating golden sweetness. Still, it was too much for me, and I vowed never again to apply a lot of the fragrance.
In short, you have to be Goldilocks when it comes to Sadanne, and to keep in mind that quantity will be as important as skin chemistry in determining what notes come out to play on your skin. The result seems to be a very personalized, individual equation which makes it hard for me to give you guidelines as to whether or not Sadanne would be for you. If you don’t like gourmands or fruity fragrances, I’m dubious as to whether you’d enjoy Sadanne, even if you did encounter the wine-like or liqueured versions. If you have minimal tolerance for sweetness and your skin chemistry amplifies those notes, then Sadanne will probably not be for you, either.
It’s even harder to know what to say to those who are fans of Slumberhouse’s earlier fragrances. “Fruity Florals” are probably the very last thing that they associate with the brand. In other ways, too, however, Sadanne feels like a marked departure Josh Lobb’s earlier fragrances. There is none of the darkness which imbued such scents as Jeke, or any of the Slumberhouse spices and frequent goldenness. Sadanne does have their richness, occasional linearity, and long lifespan, but I think it is a much simpler fragrance that lacks the layers of such scents as Sova, Ore, Zahd, or Pear + Olive.
However, Sadanne comes with benefits that several of those fragrances did not have. For one thing, it is never as unctuous as Pear + Olive. It doesn’t feel as if you’re being force-fed with endless cakes when you only asked for one slice, which was my issue with Ore. For another, Sadanne feels much better balanced than some of the other scents in the line. Its notes are smoother, less rough around the edges, and less loud, though Sadanne still retains the Slumberhouse signature of boldness. So, yes, there is much less complexity, but there is also greater ease and approachability. It’s the sort of fragrance you can just put on and enjoy.
It also feels great to wear, texturally and volume-wise, in a way that I didn’t always find with some of the other Slumberhouse fragrances. In its opening hour, Sadanne has great boldness, with rather enormous sillage, too, if you use a lot. When I applied 2 good sprays, it created a plush cloud of wine-drenched petals that floated 6 or 7 inches at first. Yet, there was an unexpected softness to the robust notes. By Slumberhouse’s standards (which are admittedly unusual in skewing heavily in the direction of opaque, unctuous density), Sadanne was practically sheer and light.
I grant you, it’s all highly relative, but I really found the perfume to have a lovely, easy weight about it. There was none of Zahd’s textural graininess or jangly bits, or Pear + Olive’s oily, overwhelming richness. Instead, for the first three hours, Sadanne flows gracefully over you with the texture of liquid satin. Later, the perfume turns down quite a few notches, simmering just above your skin for hours and hours. As compared to something like Jeke, Sadanne is practically sotto voce.
I’ve always struggled with the deadly Slumberhouse duo of untrammeled intensity combined with massive duration. The prior fragrances were always thoroughly enjoyable at first, but they consistently wore me out and exhausted me because they remained at the same loud, very linear volume for eternity. Zahd was a huge and very significant improvement in that regard, but Sadanne takes it one step further. It isn’t a blustery perfume at all. And, yet, Sadanne never sacrifices its richness or depth, nor does it completely lose all of Slumberhouse’s rather famous longevity. For example, the very bright supernova of the opening and its initially massive 6-7 inch projection begin to soften within an hour; then, roughly 90-minutes in, the sillage decreases to about 4 inches, and continues to drop as time passes.
By the start of the 4th hour, Sadanne consistently hovers about a half-inch above my skin where it remains for some time. The fragrance generally turns into a skin scent on me roughly around the 6th hour (depending on quantity), though it is still easy to detect up close for quite a while. Regardless of amount, however, Sadanne consistently lasts 14 hours or more on my skin, even if it is just a gauzy wisp of pink petals after the 10th hour and required me to put my nose right on the skin. I should mention that in one test, I could still detect traces of a fruity rose hanging on tenaciously after the 18th hour.
I think Sadanne reflects the continuing evolution of Josh Lobb, and a heightened sense of refinement in his approach. Like prior Slumberhouse fragrances, Sadanne is not for everyone, but I think it may be the brand’s most approachable fragrance to date. It felt enormously fun to wear, and frequently put a smile on my face. There is something almost innocent and playful about that fruity sweetness, though the liqueured touches do provide a more adult touch that I appreciated. That said, there were girlish aspects to some parts of Sadanne’s rose that make me wonder how men accustomed to the darker, occasionally brooding Slumberhouse fragrances will react. I think some will be completely befuddled, especially if they get the strawberry-rose version of Sadanne.
So, all of this is very positive, but would I put my money where my mouth is and buy Sadanne for myself (had I not been given a bottle)? No, I would not. However, it is for highly personal reasons. Slumberhouse prices have risen from $125 to $160. Given my particular issues with both gourmands and sweetness, $160 for 30 ml is too high for me personally, given that I wouldn’t wear Sadanne very often. I simply don’t like fruitiness (never mind the dreaded roses) to that degree, and all the liqueured wine in the world does not change Sadanne’s core essence on my skin. If Sadanne had more of the “Pink Lotus Blossom Absolute”-like note (whatever it may actually be in reality) and had a long period of dark, iridescent earthiness and funk, then I would feel differently and want the fragrance even at $160. That said, I think I might have bought Sadanne even without that aspect if the perfume were at the previous $125 price, because I really enjoy its joyous, bright cheeriness.
Since I do have a bottle, however, I can tell you that I will not be banishing Sadanne to the back of my perfume armoire with some other fragrances that I’ve been sent, nor will I fob it off onto a friend or relative to get it out of the house entirely. It is the only Slumberhouse creation that I will actually wear, albeit infrequently, because I truly mean what I’ve said here. Sadanne is a happy, fun fragrance that feels like a perfect antidote to a filthy, dark, stressful day when you just want a spark of uncomplicated, sweet, cheery brightness. She may be the girlish little sister to the dark, hulking, brooding, big brothers in the Slumberhouse line, but the smile on her face brought one to my own.
Disclosure: My bottle was provided courtesy of Josh Lobb and Slumberhouse. That did not impact this review. I do not do paid reviews, and my opinions are my own.