We all have a promised land in perfumery, one where we gambol and cavort with our favourite olfactory notes, all combined in such a way that the pleasure, comfort, and joy amounts to a sense of a perfect fit, ease, or even the feeling of being “home.” There are many promised lands, each falling within a different genre, each so difficult to find that it’s as though we’re searching for the Holy Grail. (At this point, I’m convinced that my personal Vanilla Valhalla does not exist.) The difficulty stems from the perfection that is implicitly involved in such a magical creation, the coalescence of personal, subjective factors to form one perfect bouquet like no other.
Sammarco‘s Bond-T feels like my promised land in the patchouli genre, beckoning to me with black chocolate, Ambre Loup-style tobacco, resinous amber, booze, and so much more. For a few hours, I even landed on shore and terra firma, my eyes rolling back in my head with euphoria from the first sniff, gulping down the scent with joyous abandon. But Holy Grails are completely subjective, personal things, and I’m both perfectionistic and picky, so the eventual changes to the land below my feet were no longer the perfect fit in quite the same way. Close, so close, but the promised land gradually faded into just one hell of a good perfume.
But even if it’s not actually and totally my Holy Grail, I cannot overstate the impact Bond-T had on me, particularly after the last 7 months and its depressing deluge of utterly horrendous new releases. This fragrance was a joy to wear, pure and simple. In fact, it triggered such an instantaneously visceral reaction that it completely shut down the coldly clinical, analytical part of my brain that always dissects fragrances into micro-elements and stages. So, I won’t follow my standard practice here. Instead, I’ll simply sing you the song of my people, patch heads who enjoy fragrances like Serge Lutens‘ Borneo 1834 and tobacco-amber lovers who share my adoration of Ambre Loup, my personal favourite out of everything I tried last year.
Sammarco is a Swiss artisanal perfume house founded in 2013 by Giovanni Sammarco. According to Fragrantica, he trained as a lawyer in his native Italy before moving to Switzerland to become a perfumer. On his website, he says his philosophy is “to create something beautiful using the best raw materials and without compromises.” And I think he’s achieved that goal in spades with Bond-T, one of four fragrances in his collection, and tests of the other three either made me nod appreciatively or gulp in slightly drooling fashion. This is a line that I think deserves substantially greater recognition, and I hope to cover the remaining three in the weeks to come, but today is Bond-T’s day. [Update: Signor Sammarco clarified to me that he doesn’t see himself as an all-natural perfumer, and that he uses a small portion of synthetics in one or two of his fragrances. Bond-T is almost all natural, but it has a microscopic portion of some vanilline and coumarine in it. As a result, this review has corrected the description of Signor Sammarco, and replaced the references to Bond-T being “all-natural” with “mostly natural.”]
Released in 2013, Bond-T is a pure parfum and a patchouli oriental that is both animalic and, depending on your definition or skin chemistry, either quasi-gourmand or fully so. As Signor Sammarco explains on his website,
Bond-T is a perfume born in Pisa, during a tour in the chocolate factory of a well-known Italian Maitre Chocolatier.[¶] It is the smell of the chocolate factory, it is a smell of exotic place, the cocoa absolute with patchouli and a touch of osmanthus. [¶] Hearty, dark and smoky it’s an uncommon gourmand with animal and leathery notes and a tobacco note evoked trough traditional tobacco aromas.
Some of those elements are not mentioned on the note list given on Fragrantica and on the website of many Sammarco retailers like, for example, the very prominent tobacco. Also omitted, in my opinion, are the slew of resins and labdanum/cistus amber that I detected in Bond-T’s beautiful base. All that’s quoted is:
Cocoa, patchouli, castoreum, tonka, vanilla, osmanthus.
My first response to Bond-T was to do a double-take at the notes wafting from my arm, my eyes widening as I muttered, “Wow.” The blackest chocolate — chewy, dry, unsweetened, almost bitter, and unbelievably heady in its richness — was slathered over a similarly unbelievable patchouli. Spiciness beyond compare commingled with earthy notes, deeply plummy fruits macerated in aged cognac, and a beautifully fragrant, roughened, dark tobacco. Tendrils of smoke, camphor greenness, and faintly dusty woods reach up from within the patchouli’s gloriously profound core to bind the chocolate closer to it.
I’m a “patch head,” but I’m also a huge chocolate lover both in real life and in perfumery. Do you know how rare niche chocolate fragrances are as compared to the veritable ocean of vanillas out there?! If I’m lucky, I may encounter one a year. In contrast, I try possibly 30 vanillas, perhaps more, and that’s excluding all the ones I avoid because of their reputation for tooth-aching sweetness. While everyone else gushes and coos over some caramelized, excessively sugary vanilla concoction, I sigh in the corner and wish it were chocolate that I were smelling instead — preferably a dark, rather unsweetened, and not particularly gourmand one. In food, in life, in perfumery, I’ll take chocolate over vanilla any day of the year.
So, for someone like me, to have such dark, almost bitter, but sumptuously heady chocolate combined with my beloved patchouli left me almost flailing about from sheer joy. I didn’t know what to do with myself, or what to think as a flood of images poured over me. Had I just been dunked into a large vat of chocolate at the renowned Maison du Chocolat, then swirled in magical patchouli dust? Or was this some sort of adult perfumista’s Willy Wonka factory where the river of chocolate was black, the trees dotted with plums and dripping resins, and the Oompa Loompas orange from billowing clouds of almost fiery, red spiciness? Was I getting drunk on the boozy fumes, or the cocoa ones? Wait, what was that glorious leather emerging below my feet? Everything seemed to be happening at once, my mind and senses buffeted (most happily) by the sumptuously dense aromas and the power of their combined bouquet.
There was also something else, something new emerging that jumbled my thought processes even further. It was a smidgeon of muskiness that was rapidly snowballing into a pulsating growl of animalics, lashed by the growing waves of leather and a new, rather incense-like smokiness. The growl was nothing like Maai‘s hyrax-civet-castoreum ferocity nor Salome‘s urinous, skanky, ripe sexuality. This was a blip in comparison, but it was an unquestionable muskiness, one that was leather, earthy, but also, beyond both of those things. While there were definite hints of castoreum underneath the leather, the strongest impression was of black patchouli earth that had opened up to disgorge an heretofore never seen side of the plant: patchouli as animalic vegetation.
Yes, technically, it was merely the combined effect of castoreum and patchouli together, but the muskiness here felt like a separate entity in addition to being part of the other notes. It was as if vegetation had been ejected from deep within the earth and leather to exude its own particular sort of muskiness, a gentler, softer, and more rounded sort than the type one encounters in some animalic bouquets. (For example, vegetal musks using ambrette smell quite different because they can emit a sharp, urinous, or cat-like aroma. Bond-T does not. It’s truly as though the patchouli had turned a little wild and decided to growl at you.)
The interactions are difficult to explain in part because Bond-T is so superbly blended. What I appreciate in particular is the note clarity where each element is individually distinct and clearly delineated, while also flowing seamlessly one into the next. The result is simplicity created through complexity and details. On the surface, the sum-total may be read as “patchouli,” a simple bouquet that is also somewhat linear when taken as a whole, but I think Bond-T is more than a one-note showcase because there are so many constantly moving parts under the surface.
The fragrance reminds me of a duck, sitting on the surface of a pond with serenity while, below, its little legs are paddling furiously, stirring up large currents and small ripples. One minute, there are powerful eddies of chocolate, the next leather, then tobacco, fiery red spices, or the vegetal animalic musk. The movement triggers ripples at the edges of the pond — weaker, lesser notes like the booze, the woodiness, the incense, the plummy fruit, or the smallest of them all, the camphor greenness. But nothing stays constant, the notes taking turns to lap at the patchouli’s edges or, in some cases, to cover it completely. In fact, as you’ll see in a moment, the tobacco and leather gradually become almost as significant as the chocolate in terms of being the patchouli/duck’s main partner.
A wonderful coziness runs through all of it, a haze of red-brown-black warmth that makes me think of amber, even though there is nothing sweet, caramel-ish, or particularly golden about the scent at this stage. Perhaps it’s the constant sense of balsamic resins smouldering away below the surface in a treacly river of Tolu-driven darkness. Perhaps it’s the even more intense impression of labdanum in its darkest, most tobacco’d, earthy, chewy form running alongside.
It’s undoubtedly both those things combined with my unshakeable feeling that I’m wearing the chocolate-patchouli equivalent of my beloved Ambre Loup that cements my reaction to Bond-T. The same DNA runs through both fragrances, particularly the tobacco and the heavily spiced, opium-like resins. (The drug, not the YSL fragrance.)
There are differences, though, beyond the obvious patchouli and black chocolate elements in Bond-T. First and foremost, this brother exudes semi-animalic musk, and has that small growl I mentioned earlier, albeit a quietly husky one that is almost like a playful invitation. Ambre Loup merely snuggled up to you, enveloped you like a cozy blanket, and gave you a kiss. The second difference is Bond-T’s semi-gourmand streak, one that subsequently turns sweeter and more pronounced. Ambre Loup is never gourmand, not quasi or otherwise. Finally, Bond-T is not as heavy or dense as Ambre Loup. It is for the first 2 or 2.5 hours, but not later and not when taken as a whole.
Some of you may be wondering why I haven’t talked about the most famous chocolate-patchouli around, Serge Lutens‘ Borneo 1834. And it’s true, there are a number of similarities, but I think they’re outweighed by the differences and the overall vibe. Borneo 1834 has a noticeable amount of the cumin that Serge Lutens used to love sticking in so many of his early creations. On my skin, it resulted in the smell of stale, sweaty body odor, although it wasn’t a major thing. Borneo was also quite camphorous, green, and dusty, but Bond-T has little to none of that on my skin. More importantly, the body, feel, and balance of notes are very different. Bond-T has a monumental, massive amount of bitter, dark chocolate, and it’s an incredibly thick, aromatically heady aroma. But the tobacco becomes almost as rich and prominent, and there are strong leather and musk streaks as well. In contrast, Borneo had a lighter and softer amount of chocolate; no tobacco or leather that I can recall; and no muskiness beyond what cumin can sometimes impart (which is quite a different sort of “animalics”).
Furthermore, both the individual companion notes and the overall fragrance itself were milder and lighter, comparatively speaking, because one is an eau de parfum while the other is a pure parfum. The 2013 version of Borneo that I tried had a strong opening but, when taken as a whole, the scent was softer, sheerer, and thinner on me than Bond-T which feels practically opaque and viscous in comparison. Its tobacco, leather, musk, spices, resins, musk, and subsequent vanilla and boozy cognac each have a robust weight and depth that almost (almost) match the patchouli, and they’re far stronger than Borneo’s secondary notes ever were on my skin. The result feels more multi-dimensional than a mere chocolate-patchouli soliflore, so, to me, Bond-T is Ambre Loup’s chocolate-patchouli brother more than Borneo’s.
It’s an excellent fragrance, but it’s not my “Holy Grail” patchouli for a few reasons First, Bond-T starts to grow sweeter at the end of the 3rd hour when puffs of vanilla appear on the sidelines, along with an increasingly ambered goldenness. Together, they cut through some of the chocolate’s darkness and bitterness, and that process picks up in speed as time passes. The advent of tonka in the 6th hour adds to the transformation, moving the fragrance even further away from its dark opening. The second change also begins around the 3rd hour. Bond-T grows lighter and quieter. Up close, the actual bouquet is still strong and intense, but as a general matter, the fragrance has lost a lot of its beautiful heft, and its power has been dialed down accordingly.
The sillage is impacted as well. The fragrance had opened with about 3-4 inches of projection and a scent trail that extended roughly 8 inches, but the numbers drop after 2.25 hours, and then further at the end of the 3rd hour. The projection is about an inch, the sillage about, and the fragrance no longer bears the dense chewiness that I’d loved so much at the debut. The twin changes of new sweetness and softness move Bond-T away not only from my beloved Ambre Loup but also, in the later hours, away from the very things that made the scent so distinctive for me.
The changes really take hold late in the 5th hour when the glorious darkness fades away, the sweetness increases, and Bond-T tiptoes into gourmand territory rather of merely glancing in its direction from time to time. Now, instead of dark tobacco, balsamic resins, and musky leather accompanying the choco-patchouli, it’s tonka, vanilla, and boozy, plummy, ambered cognac. The effect of these changes on skin like mine, skin that amplifies sweetness, is to substantially alter the chocolate as well. It goes from black and semi-bitter to milk-chocolate tinged with caramel; and from a huge tidal wave to mere ripples subsumed within a growing, larger cloud of vanilla, tonka, and amber. Milk chocolate patchouli is nice, but I don’t think it’s as appealing as the other variety.
My real issue, though, is that ambered, boozy patchouli with vanilla and plummy cognac (and some minor chocolate) is hardly as unusual, interesting, or distinctive as animalic, musky patchouli paired with black chocolate, dark tobacco, dark leather, and dark resins. Don’t bring me into the light, dammit; I was overjoyed to be in the dark. The loss of distinctiveness is underscored by the slew of other fragrances that Bond-T begins to call to mind from the 6th hour onwards. I feel as though I’m wearing a mash-up of the middle/late stages of several Roja Dove fragrances, namely his patchouli-driven Danger Pour Homme Parfum with Enigma/Creation-E Pour Homme‘s boozy cognac and its (Tobacco Vanille-scented) drydown of plum pudding, vanilla, and tobacco. A cup of his milk chocolate Amber Extrait is poured in there as well. Each of those fragrances has wonderfully enjoyable parts, but none of them swept me off my feet as Ambre Loup did and, let’s be honest, boozy patchoulis, boozy patchouli ambers, and Tobacco Vanille clones are incredibly common.
I feel churlish, as though I’m nitpicking and being difficult, because the drydown isn’t bad and it’s actually enjoyable, but it’s an accumulation of factors when combined with the previously mentioned sillage and softness issues from the 4th hour onwards. I keep telling myself that Bond-T is doing very well for a mostly natural fragrance and, in fact, has outstanding body and power as compared to the flimsiness and excessively intimate sillage of many purely natural brands. But I love dense, heavy, Wagnerian powerhouses; Bond-T’s first 2.5 hours had raised my hopes that I’d finally found my Holy Grail patchouli; and perfection is in the eyes of the beholder, so the subsequent changes… well, it’s not quite the Platonic ideal.
But it’s like the Leaning Tower of Pisa — that’s not perfect, either, and yet most people think it’s amazing anyway. I certainly think Bond-T is. It’s got outstanding longevity for a mostly natural fragrance, clocking in at around 11-12 hours. And how can I discount the sheer joy I felt at the opening bouquet? It almost made me feel like weeping with relief at being freed from the olfactory version of Dante’s Inferno, the assembly line of indistinguishable, characterless, overly synthetic, and ridiculously over-priced garbage currently littering the surfaces of my desk, a credenza, and a chest of drawers. My last 6 to 8 weeks have been filled with such an unstoppable deluge of mediocrity (or actual pigswill) that I’ve contemplated staying silent rather than writing 25 or 30 negative reviews in a row. I don’t know Sammarco’s owner from Adam, to use an old saying, but I almost feeling like sending him a fruit basket to thank him for saving my sanity because it’s not just Bond-T that is good; all FOUR of his fragrances that I’ve tried have been absolutely solid, well-executed, seamlessly blended, high-quality, and with appealing parts. (I will briefly discuss the others a bit later.)
I only have a few words of caution when it comes to Bond-T. First and foremost, our personal definitions of “semi-gourmand,” “gourmand,” or “sweetness” vary, depending on one’s tastes and skin chemistry. For me, Bond-T isn’t a full-on gourmand at first, but it does tiptoe there later with caramel-scented amber, vanilla, and milk chocolate. Even so, I didn’t find it to be excessive, cloying, or too much, and I have a very low threshold for sweetness. Others may feel differently, though, particularly if they abhor any sort of chocolate in their fragrance. I have a friend who gushes over the sweetest, sugariest vanillas around, but give her one whiff of chocolate (let alone chocolate accompanied by amber!), and she recoils in horror. She can’t understand how I love them, either individually or together, but we’re all different. In the case of Bond-T, I think both work beautifully with animalic patchouli, tobacco, and leather (far exceeding anything found in Borneo 1834), but I can see some patchouli purists objecting, particularly the men.
On Fragrantica, there are four reviews at this time, and they’re mixed in nature. For “Alfarom,” Bond-T was a great fragrance that he rated 8-8.5 out of 10, an earthy patchouli that “avoids” (his exact word, but my emphasis) gourmand elements, and that felt like an “unlimited budget, high-end version of Borneo 1834.” For “Houdini4,” however, Bond-T was too heavy, too ambered, too chocolate-y, and with insufficient castoreum or leather. Since I have a lot of other points to discuss, I won’t take up space quoting snippets of their reviews, and will let you read them later if you’re interested.
I want to move on to longevity issues. Two people wrote that Bond-T died too quickly. In fact, the longevity votes surprised me in general: the majority (6) chose “poor,” followed by 4 votes for “weak.” I had a very different experience, but the lesson here is to test first because personal skin chemistry will make a big difference. (And, please, keep in mind that a mostly natural fragrance won’t have the boost or reach of one brimming to the top with synthetics.)
On Basenotes, all three reviews there at this time are positive. My favourite is from “Claire V.” who describes Bond-T in detail, calling it “sexy stuff,” and “a very masculine take on the cocoa-patch quasi-gourmand theme.” She noted the obvious Borneo resemblance, but also experienced a lot of tobacco (and a strong black tea note that she enjoyed), brought up SSS‘ Tabac Aurea, and added that Bond-T would be a good alternative to the more common A*Men, A*Men Havane, or LIDGE sort of patchouli-cocoa-tonka fragrances that men wear. And she had no problems with longevity, either. Here are a few snippets:
This one does everything right. It pairs a brown, dusty cocoa note with a dirty, castoreum-driven leather – and manages to come off as its own beast. Although it shares similarities of tone with Serge Lutens’ wonderful Borneo 1834, there is none of Borneo’s oriental richness. Rather, underneath the cocoa-patchouli skin of Bond-T there beats a heart of what smells like a wad of fruity, slightly fermented tobacco leaves and grimy leather. It smells rich and tannic, and just off-putting enough to stop it from being fully gourmand.
Further on, the scent dries out, and I start to wonder if it’s tobacco I smell, or instead black China tea. It is astonishing – at this stage, the perfume really does smell as if I put my nose into a tin of the blackest tea leaves from China – those utterly matt black, loose-leaf ones. Tea leaves do have some of the bone-dry, tannic qualities I get from tobacco leaves – and a sort of leathery, smoked flavor. […][¶]
At the end, a nice surprise – the tonka and vanilla smooth out the earthy patch notes, leveling it off into an incredible “malted chocolate powder” sort of aroma. At this point, it smells more like Ovaltine than a full-on chocolate patch. Longevity is pretty great, too. […][¶]
It could be summed up a little lazily as a cross between Borneo 1834 and Tabac Aurea (with a teeny bit of Mona di Orio’s Cuir thrown in for good measure), but I think I will just say that men who have been looking at stuff like Dior Privee’s Feve Delicieuse, A*Men (original), A*Men Pure Havane, and LIDGE might want to consider this as a great alternative in the patchouli-tonka-cocoa field. [Emphasis in bolding added by me.]
For me, Bond-T may not be my Holy Grail patchouli, but the promised land beckons enough that I plan to buy a bottle. In fact, the only reason I haven’t done so already is because I’m trying to sort out my feelings for Ariel and to see if I should buy that one as well. Ariel is the most feminine perfume in the line, and completely at the other end of the spectrum from Bond-T, but I always enjoy the extremes and something about the scent has its tentacles in me.
I’ll be reviewing Ariel next, but those of you who love classical, powdery, green or green-white feminine florals should take heed now and order a sample because you’ll love this one. It starts as the non-aldehydic, violet, and violet leaf cousin to Chanel No. 19 (or one of the old, green Balmains) mated with a powdery, angelica-dusted, orris-y vintage Guerlain and Carven‘s Ma Griffe, before eventually turning into a slightly green version of vintage Shalimar. The opening is not my thing. At all. (Violet leaf… shudder.) But my green issues don’t prevent me from recognizing an excellent fragrance when I see one, and Ariel is beautifully done from start to finish. In fact, I’m so beguiled by its jasmine-vanilla Shalimar phase that I’m trying to decide if I can overlook the first 90-120 minutes enough to buy a bottle. As a side note, Ariel impressed Luca Turin the most out of the quartet, but he thought it conjured up vintage Chamade instead.
As a matter of fact, Luca Turin wrote positively about all the Sammarco fragrances on his new blog, Perfumes I Love, including Bond-T:
Bond-T, a huge and delightful chocolate-patchouli fragrance that flirts with gluttony for the first twenty minutes. Of course Angel was there in 1992, perversely married this type of accord with a floral base, and went on to change the world. But this one achieves a very different, muted effect reminiscent of Borneo 1834, but sultrier, with a honeyed drydown that veers towards a narcissus note.
As I mentioned earlier, all four Sammarco fragrances are solid and worth testing. I don’t think I’m going to give Vitrum an in-depth exploration like Ariel, and I may save coverage for a combined review with the fourth scent, Alter, but those of you who love either vetiver or rose-speckled vetiver should seriously consider getting a sample before that time. It had one of the loveliest, most multi-faceted vetivers that I’ve encountered in a while, verging from rooty to woody, mossy, mineralised, dark, and deliciously earthy. I’m not a hardcore vetiver lover, but Vitrum was so well done and such good quality that I sniffed my arm with admiration and appreciation. Alter is the last one, and I’ve given it only a brief, passing test so far, but it seems to be an old-school, indolic, jasmine-dominated floral with an animalic side from civet. It’s nice, but it’s done the least for me out of the lot so far. Perhaps major study will change my mind later.
Regardless of which scent captures your eye, samples are available from a few retailers in North America and Europe, and a set of all 4 costs €27 when ordered directly from Sammarco. (See the Details section at the end). If you do have a pay a small shipping fee, I think it would be well worth it if you love the key note in question. As Luca Turin’s review demonstrates, these are all smooth, well-executed, seamlessly blended, good quality fragrances.
Sammarco fragrances are also moderately priced, at least relative to some of the astonishing prices I’ve seen lately for allegedly “niche” fragrances whose pretentious marketing blather and gimmickry seek to distract attention from their depressingly formulaic, synthetic, and generically mainstream compositions. That’s not the case here. There is no fuss, no PR, no psuedo-“luxury” bottles, and no heaping dose of pretentious existential or emo-like angst served up with your $220, $330, or higher priced crap. Bond-T and its siblings generally cost $145, €130, or £115 for 30 ml of pure parfum. That’s not bad given the fragrances’ quality, smoothness, and classically elegant feel.
I’ve spent a lot of time talking about Bond-T and could easily rave about its delights for another hour, but I’ll spare you and just say that I think it’s a superb fragrance that any patch head who loves Borneo 1834 (and Ambre Loup) really must try.
Disclosure: My sample was one of several given out by Sammarco at the 2016 Esxence trade show. As always, where I obtained my sample bears no influence on my reviews. I do not do paid reviews, and my opinions are my own.