Elephant & Roses and Syconium are two very different fragrances from the Italian niche brand, Maria Candida Gentile. The former layers roses with grassy, animalic, or clean elements, while the latter covers sandalwood with figs then dunks them both in a mix of milk and honey. I’ll look at each fragrance in turn.
ELEPHANT & ROSES:
Elephant & Roses is an eau de parfum that was released this year. On her website, Maria Candida Gentile describes the fragrance, its development, its name, and its notes as follows:
A late afternoon, sitting at my desk, exercising to recreate an elephant smell, while writing my perfume formulae I had a kind of a vision, which merged the elephant’s image, its smell and a large field of roses, of an intense colour, almost fuchsia. Within this vision the elephants were running and, trampling on the roses, were dispersing a scent of flowers, mixed together with the strong smell of their bodies. Slowly – while I was weighing and smelling my formula – after trying it on my skin I realised that it was mine. I used the Turkish rose: this fragrance is derived from the blending of two different formulae, using the so called “dans le tiroir” method, by which I merged animal notes with skin and floral ones.
Name’s origin :
The elephant comes from a remembrance of Indian and African colonies, and the rose is the British rose. An encounter between an elephant and the roses has got some British sense of humour. There is an assonance with London district Elephant & Castle.
Top notes: Thyme, Custus [Cistus Labdanum amber], Osmanthus
Heart notes: Rose, Jasmine, Grey Amber
Base notes: Java vetiver, Sandal wood, Animal accord.
Elephant & Roses opens on my skin with a deep, velvety, fruity rose that’s been lightly sprinkled with fresh, green thyme. Lurking in the background is an almost pollinated, floral sweetness that briefly makes me think of mimosa. Next to it is a delicate whiff of osmanthus, smelling both a touch leathery and like apricots. Within mere moments, though, Elephant & Roses shifts. Greenness flourishes as the thyme takes on an additional aroma of mint, and thin shoots of vetiver sprout up around the rose, smelling very grassy and a wee bit earthy.
At the same time, tiny pops of something animalic appear all around in little bursts. It smells a lot like costus root to my nose, not its pure funk with its fatty, oily, dirty hair, or crotch odors, but something that exceeds the vegetal ambrette that is typically used to recreate animalic aromas in modern perfumery. There is an acidic sharpness that verges on ammonia — except not quite. It’s not urinous precisely; it’s merely acidic in some sort of indescribable way.
In the early moments, though, the animalic element is quite overshadowed by the growing presence of apricot-y osmanthus floralcy and vetiver grass, both of which rapidly encircle the rose on center stage, almost pushing it to the sidelines. The thyme folds into them minutes into Elephant & Rose’s development. It’s noticeable as a hazy note when I smell my arm up close, but the herb is increasingly elusive, like a mirage that is both out-of-focus and out of reach on the horizon. When I do catch its trail, it smells more like mint, or a mint-thyme combination, at best. The rose is perplexing in rather similar ways. It’s absolutely there when I smell my arm up close but, short of that, it feels diffused on the air, a few shimmering, diaphanous, and almost indeterminate floral molecules floating here and there on the air.
Roughly 15 minutes into its development, the “elephant” part of the fragrance’s name finally takes shape, metaphorically speaking. The tiny pops of acidity that hinted at ammonia now turn into a pronounced costus root aroma. It’s not purely the lion and panther pee of the costus in Amouage‘s Opus VII nor “the urinal cakes” that were so famously a part of Kouros in its vintage, original form, but there is a definite animal “funk” to it. It’s quietly leathery and musky but, above all else, it’s a profoundly high-pitched, urinously ammonia aroma with a surprising metallic quality to it. When combined with the grassiness of the vetiver and the damp earthiness that suddenly appears at the edges, the cumulative effect is of an animal peeing all over a floral rose and osmanthus bouquet, one sprinkled with mint, then wrapped up in sheets of “grass.”
It’s different when I smell Elephant & Roses from a distance, though. The scent trailing in the air around me is a simple, far less intense bouquet centered primarily on a blurry, amorphous, merely rosy-ish floral surrounded by grass, then splattered with a dash of mint, and a few drops of a sour, metallic muskiness.
All too quickly, this becomes the main bouquet up close as well. By the 30-minute mark, the osmanthus has completely vanished, as if in the blink of an eye. The herbal touches are not only blurring into an indeterminate aroma, but losing strength with incredible rapidity. The animalic accord is dissolving into an acidic, animalic muskiness or musky, animalic sourness, depending on how you look at it, although the strange metallic undertone remains constant. 45 minutes in, Elephant & Roses has suddenly devolved into a simple, sheer, grassy, sour rose with a subtle animalic muskiness that occasionally bears a vestige of metallic ammonia. It’s really just sour and grassy above all else. There are no herbs, no osmanthus floralcy or fruitiness, and no clearly delineated vetiver.
By the end of the first hour, Elephant & Roses is merely a nondescript, barely rosy, very generalised floral musk with a modicum of grassiness. The scent is musky in a minor way, but it also bears a new, growing streak of cleanness as well, that white musk that Maria Candida Gentile seems to use in so many of her fragrances. The aroma is so nebulous and indeterminate that it’s difficult to tell much, but the animalic accord now seems like a mix of soapy white musk with a few drops of ambrette in it, rather than the more intense, piercing aroma of costus root. It’s hard to tell because everything about Elephant & Roses is so indistinct and soft on my skin. As time passes, it merely turns cleaner and hazier. About 1.75 hours into its development, Elephant & Roses becomes a skin scent, and is nothing more than a simple, clean, floral musk with a vestige of something green about it. It dies in the middle of the 3rd hour as a wisp of clean musk.
On Fragrantica, Elephant & Roses receives mixed reviews. One person enjoyed it as a “a tender, sweet rose that is barnyard animalic,” with grassy and minty notes. Another struggled with longevity, saying the fragrance was animalic “for about a minute” but “then poof my skin sucks it up and all I am left is with is a tiny bit of creamy white musk.” A third experienced a lot of thyme on the mouillette or scent strip, but it only lasted for a few minutes on his skin before the fragrance quickly turned “soapy,” “like a clean cotton fabric.” He compared the scent to cosmetics or “showergel,” calling it a “nice pleasant romantic and English” fragrance that would “perfectly suit” Queen Elizabeth. Clearly, personal skin chemistry is going to impact both the degree and longevity of the animalic notes that appear, but I personally can’t see Queen Elizabeth enjoying even the brief whiff that I experienced.
A greater issue for most people, in my opinion, is Elephant & Roses’ longevity. The majority of votes on Fragrantica rate it as “Poor” (defined as 30 minutes to 1 hour) with 9 votes; “Weak” (1-2 hours) is chosen next with 5 votes. I don’t know if most people would enjoy Elephant & Roses, but I doubt it will last long on your skin either way.
Syconium is an eau de parfum that was released in 2014 as part of The Flight of the Bumblebee Collection. On her website, Maria Candida Gentile describes the fragrance and its notes as follows:
Syconium is the ripening of the fig, the best expression of what nature has to offer in the form of fruit, the richness of the flavour and of the perfume that are brought to us by a tree close to us since the earliest times. The pulp but also the milk, the peel, the scorching sun and the shadow of the great leaves.
Top notes: Honey, Milk
Heart notes: Fig
Base notes: Java Sandal Wood
Family note [common to all the fragrances in the Bumblebee Collection]: Beeswax
Syconium is a different experience from Elephant & Roses on many levels, from its scent and fragrance family to its longevity. It opens on my skin with a delicious mix of milk and honey poured over an incredibly fluffy sandalwood note that’s layered like a parfait with juicy bits of fresh fig pulp and green fig milk. The fig is a light but gorgeous note. Initially, it’s not tannic or leathery, and never excessively fruity or sweet. Its pairing with the sandalwood feels particularly inspired because of the way the wood smells in the 15 minutes. It’s redolent of flour, but in such a creamy, airy, sweet, and fragrant way that it continuously makes me think of a British sponge cake.
That impression is solidified by definite, concrete, and very strong streaks of vanilla that run through the base. Vanilla may not be listed as part of Syconium’s notes, but I’d bet money it’s there. Here, it’s simultaneously like flour-y cake batter and a silky, milky crème anglaise, my two favorite types of vanilla mixed together. It’s a perfect way of plumping up the sandalwood. So is the utterly delicious, addictive combination of milk and honey which is my favorite part of Syconium. It feels like the essence of childhood, as well as a simple, universal comfort. When taken all together, the cumulative effect is a sweet, flour-y, vanillic, sandalwood “sponge” strewn with dollops of fresh fig pulp, fig jam, and fig milk, then bathed in milk and honey.
Syconium changes in small degrees over the next hour. Roughly 10 minutes in, pops of cinnamon appear on the sidelines, smelling like the sort of spiciness that is a side-effect of a Siam benzoin or resin. There is a soft, golden warmth that descends over the notes at the same time, undoubtedly from the same source. The sandalwood begins to emit tiny puffs of smokiness that smudge the edges of the parfait like shadows. I may have been unduly influenced by Syconium’s official description, but I suddenly imagine children on a golden, late summer’s day in the Italian countryside. Everything is languid, and they dunk their dolce into warm milk and honey as part of their afternoon tea while the sun slowly sets and dark shadows begin to fall over the horizon.
Roughly 30 minutes in, Syconium is primarily a mix of milk, honey, milky fig, and vanilla crème anglaise, wrapped up with ribbons of smoky, spicy, lightly floured sandalwood in a golden haze. From a distance, the scent trailing in the air is essentially the same but, sometimes, it’s all milk, honey, and vanilla. Either way, it’s an incredibly comforting, soothing, and gentle mix, and I couldn’t stop sniffing my arm with appreciation.
I only wish Syconium stayed that way, but it doesn’t. At the end of the first hour, the scent grows drier, darker, and smokier. The honeyed milkiness weakens significantly and defuses over the air, while the smokiness of the sandalwood surges to take its place as a solid, clearly delineated, and core element. More and more, it resembles the sharp, arid, intensely smoky aroma of Javanol, the sandalwood aromachemical that fills Tom Ford‘s Santal Blush and several Nasomatto fragrances. It’s a synthetic that always triggers a headache and a physical reaction in my throat, and I’d feared its possible presence here, too, when I read the words “Java Sandal Wood” in Syconium’s note list. Well, it’s definitely included, and its smokiness ruins Syconium for me, though you should keep in mind that most people don’t share my sensitivity to large amounts of very smoky aromachemicals.
At the same time as the smoky sandalwood becomes Syconium’s main focus, the fig changes as well. The sense of fresh, bright, juicy fruit pulp disappears, leaving a milky greenness that is layered briefly with a tannic, almost leathery undertone. The latter isn’t evident for long, mostly because the fig transforms into a mercurial presence as a whole: sometimes, it’s like a diffuse veil that covers the sandalwood in a very distinct way; sometimes, it feels like a mirage that shimmers in the background, almost elusive unless I smell my arm up close; often, it’s like a ghost that disappears entirely only to reappear 10 or 20 minutes later before vanishing yet again.
Roughly 75 minutes into its development, Syconium has become almost entirely a spicy, smoky, Javanol sandalwood fragrance veiled with fluctuating amounts of milk, honey, vanilla, and milky green fig. It really doesn’t change in a major way for hours to come except in the strength of its secondary or tertiary notes. About 2.5 hours in, the vanilla fades away as a clear note, while a clean white musk appears in the background. The sandalwood’s smokiness is intense on my skin, particularly when I smell my arm up close. Its strength not only renders Syconium very dry, but it also cuts through the fragrance’s gourmand elements. The “milk and honey” accord suffers the most. It’s now so diffuse, it’s like tiny molecules dotting the background. Nevertheless, it remains a minor part of Syconium until the 7th hour when it finally fades away. At that point, the fragrance is still primarily a smoky, spicy sandalwood fragrance with clean musk and a mercurial touch of milky fig. Syconium only changes in its final hours, dissolving into a blur of smoky sweetness that is vaguely woody, spicy, and clean.
Syconium had very good longevity, moderate sillage, but soft projection. Using several good, wide smears equal to 2 solid sprays from a bottle, it opened with about 3 inches of projection and about 4 inches of sillage. After two hours, the projection hovered an inch above the skin, but the sillage was still about 3-4 inches. Syconium only turned into a skin scent after 4.75 hours, but it was still easy to detect up close without effort until the 7th hour. All in all, it lasted just under 12 hours, but bear in mind that my skin holds onto powerful or smoky aromachemicals like Javanol much longer than most and also projects such scents quite a bit. Others have not fared so well with Syconium, judging by the longevity and sillage votes on Fragrantica.
There, the fragrance receives good reviews. People generally described Syconium as either a sandalwood fragrance or a gourmand one. Some people do not experience any fig, while others detect varying degrees of it. Almost everyone mentions the milk and honey, though. One person calls Syconium “throat-chokingly dry” (it’s the Javanol), but that is the rare exception to the rule. The general consensus is somewhere between these two perspectives:
- Absolutely delicious. Pulpy, ripened fig in a wooden bowl, poured over with honeyed milk. One of my favorite fig fragrances to date. So incredibly comforting and divine.
- This starts with alot of creamy sandalwood. I do not get a very pronounched fig note. To me this is very well blended, and the sandalwood, milk and honey stands out the most.
For many people, Syconium is incredibly evocative. “Cereza” called it a bit of “heaven” that was “all about the most innocent accords”: “milky sandalwood with just a bit of honey added – nutty, gourmand and so very, very innocent!” But it was also a “skin scent which unfortunately lacks in the longevity department,” and only lasted 4 hours, so she couldn’t justify buying a bottle for the price. For Colin Mallard, Syconium was “suprisingly evocative and nostalgically picturesque”:
I normally can’t stand reviews blabbering about memories and “images”, but this fragrances does really evoke vibrant scenes of cozy villages and rural fairs, with their smells and flavours of trees, plants, candies and sweets (ginger, honey, fruity notes). Mediterranean but also Oriental in a way, simple and friendly, lively, graceful, elegantly aromatic and pleasantly understated. Well done!
For The Scented Hound, Syconium was primarily a “dreamy fig” scent, evocative of “the prettiest balcony garden,” and intensely comforting. The sandalwood appeared on his skin, but he wrote that, “in the end your left with the most lush, milky and creamy fig that’s warm, soothing and comforting.”
I’m more sensitive to large amounts of aromachemicals than most people, so Syconium wasn’t my cup of tea, but I think it would appeal to others who don’t share my issues. If you love either fig, milky gourmands, or sandalwood fragrances, I definitely recommend trying Syconium for yourself. There’s a good chance you’ll love it.