Sex, heated skin, animalic musk, wild horses sweaty after their ride through forests, sweaty balls, and even S&M leather — they’re all things that come to mind with the very evocative and aptly named Peau de Bete (or “Skin of the Beast”) from Les Liquides Imaginaires. An immensely animalic fragrance, it is bold in aroma, but skin-like in both its feel and soft reach. Above all else, though, its animalic muskiness is redolent of human sexuality.
While other fragrances have trodden this path before, most recently Papillon‘s fantastic Salome, few of them have done so with quite as much singularity as Peau de Bete. It strips everything away but its sexualized animalics; there are no extraneous elements like chyprish bergamot top accords or middle-layer florals to adulterate the purity of vision. It’s as though the composition were merely one, single (albeit multi-faceted) base accord. Depending on your tastes and on your experience levels with raunchy, sexual, and dirty animalic musk fragrances, that’s either a good thing or something that will make you scrub right away. I happened to think Peau de Bete was damn sexy, but it is certainly not a scent for everyone.
Peau de Bete is an eau de parfum that was created by Carine Bouin and released in 2015. Les Liquides Imaginaires typically released its scents as trios, and Fragrantica says that Peau de Bete is the first in a trilogy that will be called Animal Beauty. Thus far, it is the only one in the series. Les Liquides Imaginaires has no description for the scent on its website, but the bottle gives you full warning of its olfactory focus on the skin, as well as its soft character in terms of sillage, with the words: “Peau de Bete, Eau de Peau.” In French, “Peau” means “skin,” so the company is clearly calling it a soft skin scent in style.
The note list, as translated from the French, is:
Top: Chamomile, Safranal [Saffron], Cumin, Black Pepper, Parsley, Herbs
Base: Cade, Guaiac, Atlas Cedar, Texan Cedar, Indonesian Patchouli, Indian Cypriol, Leather Accord, Styrax resin, Flouve Absolute, Ambrarome Absolute, Castoreum, Civet, and Scatol/Skatole.
It’s worth taking a few minutes to go over what some of those materials smell like. Flouve is a type of grass, and the Absolute form has a complex aroma that smells of: sweet grasses; soft loamy, dark earth; dry hay; and even a bit of moss sometimes. Styrax is a type of benzoin resin, but it’s the smokiest resin around and also has a leathery side instead of the more common cinnamon-scented or vanillic tonalities. Ambrarome Absolu is extracted from labdanum gum, the resin of the cistus plant. Despite its labdanum connection, its aroma is animalic, musky, and leathery, so it is more frequently compared to ambergris instead. It is also widely described as having “hints of pepper, tar, tobacco and coffee” as well. Skatole is an organic compound that belongs to the indole family. It can be found in feces, coal tar, and some white flowers. At a low dosage, it can smell a bit flowery but, at a high dosage, it smells just like poo.
Peau de Bete opens on my skin with seemingly all its notes at once but, in particular, earthy cumin, rich saffron, herbaceous greenness, skanky civet, leathery castoreum, rich patchouli, smoky resins, and sweet grasses, all infused with campfire smoke from the cade and from singed, leathery, tarry woods that give a slight barbecue effect. Hanging like a thick, dark, and chewy blanket over everything are the by-products of the notes, half smoky, half dirty musks, but all fully animalic.
The overall effect and the technique used continuously remind me of a Pointilist painting by George Seurat. In Pointillism, art is created through hundreds of tiny dots of colour, each one is clearly visible if you peer up close (very close) and focus. But, take a few steps back, and you’re struck only by the overall picture, the colours blending in the viewer’s eye to transform into a sum greater than their tiny individual parts.
That blended picture transforms in the case of the Pointilist-style Peau de Bete as well, sometimes from one moment to another. With one blink of the eye, you see horses, flying through smoky forests, the leather of their saddles darkened and slick from the heated sweat that covers their flanks, their hooves kicking through rich earth, green herbs, resins, grasses, and patchouli leaves.
With another blink, though, the picture and accompanying landscape change yet again, expanding to embrace the ultimate olfactory archetype symbolized or represented by this genre: human sexuality. It’s the aroma of the naked body in its most intimate places, the skin velvety with warmth and slick with sweat that smells ripe but not unpleasantly so. It’s not the ripeness of three-day old body odor and stale sweat, but it is most definitely the aroma of a man’s crotch after sex or intense exertion.
At its core, Peau de Bete feels like a really multi-faceted base accord rather than the more traditionally structured fragrance with its three levels. To the extent that there is a top layer (chamomile, spices, grasses, earth, and herbs), it folds into the expanding base less than 20 minutes into Peau de Bete’s development. Once there, everything overlaps in an increasingly blurry haze, as though the dots in the Pointilist painting had started to seep into each other, accentuating the sum-total rather than the individual parts. Up close, if you sniff and focus, it’s still easy to pick out the patchouli, the cade campfire and barbecue accord, and the castoreum leather, but they’re increasingly turning into mere representations: spiciness, earthiness, smokiness, leatheriness, and animalic muskiness. It’s basically the same transformation that occurs with base notes during a fragrance’s late drydown. As such Peau de Bete’s entire focus is upon the purest essence of a skanky animalic, stripped of superfluous elements that may dilute or distract from that goal.
For some people, the use of a base accord as the sum-total entirety of a fragrance may be overly simplistic, but I respect it in this instance because of the sheer complexity of all the “Dots” that have gone into creating it, as well as its purity and its smoothness. The result is akin to having a single shot of really top-notch expresso instead of futzing about with a pumpkin spice latte that hides the taste of the coffee under flavourings and additives. There is a time and a place for each, but it depends on what you’re in the mood for, and how well each one has been done.
Here, I think Peau de Bete has been extremely well crafted for a “mood” fragrance, even if its isolated, singular base results in fewer changes than a regular composition. Development is largely limited to the way the notes interact with each other and the nuances they emit. Roughly 30-40 minutes in, all the elements fuse together, the close-up on the Pointilist “dots” now completely ended in favour of the overall picture. At the same time, Peau de Bete grows smokier, darker, and significantly more leathered in feel. Instead of smelling like a horse and the sweet grasses of the plains on which it roams, the images it evokes are now centered on a barbecue campfire, tarry leather, and sweaty, naked bodies writhing amidst the smoke. To put it more crudely, it’s the smell of sweaty balls after leather-based S&M sex conducted near a barbecue pit in a forest that is slowly going up in smoke. (Not that I’ve actually experienced this precise scenario, but it’s really not difficult to imagine once you smell Peau de Bete….)
For all that, Peau de Bete feels like a very polished, sophisticated, and purely classical olfactory interpretation of an S&M session. I made my mother — yes, my mother — sniff Peau de Bete for the simple reason that she is my barometer for all things animalic in fragrance. She not only taught me about haute perfumery as a young child but, more importantly for our purposes here, she has never encountered a “skanky” fragrance that she thought was “filthy,” “too much,” or unappealing. Not once. Not ever. Not Salome, Maai, MKK, Montecristo, Hard Leather, Roja Dove’s original NuWa, vintage Femme, or anything else for that matter. To her, these aren’t “dirty” or “raunchy” fragrances at all but, rather, the norm and “the way fragrances are meant to be.” (For her, it is modern gourmands that are beyond all comprehension. “Who wants to smell of food?!”) So, it should tell you something that this grande dame and classicist took one sniff of Peau de Bete and did an immediate double take, her head whipping around for a second try. “That’s wonderful,” she sighed happily. Then, she gave it her highest accolade — “That’s the way perfumes used to be” — followed by the automatic second question that arises whenever she loves something enough to consider buying it for herself: “How is the projection or sillage?”
This is where Peau de Bete falls short for my personal preferences (and hers), but, let’s face it, it’s completely unfair to level any sillage criticism at a scent that explicitly warns you ahead of time that it’s an “Eau de Peau.” With my standard baseline quantity of a 2-spray equivalent, the fragrance was rich and bold in aroma up close, but light in weight and projection, turning into an airy cloud at the 30-minute mark and then into a fine mist at the end of the first hour. The vaporous ribbons not only lost all body but half of their projection at that time as well, hovering an inch above the skin. The sillage was better, comparatively speaking, at roughly 2-3 inches in the opening moments, but it dropped at the 90-minute mark, then precipitously so at the end of the 2nd hour to lie close to the skin, as intimate in reach as it had become in olfaction.
In terms of precise olfactory development, Peau de Bete doesn’t change dramatically except, as mentioned earlier, in its nuances. Roughly 40-45 minutes in, the dirty musk turns a little sharp, feeling slightly high-pitched rather than rounded or smooth. I don’t know if any macrocyclic musks like Muscone or Muscenone have been used, but it wouldn’t surprise me if they had. Regardless, the note softens about 1.75 hours. Not long after, the fragrance’s focus shifts slightly as Peau de Bete becomes more urinous and more sexual in bent with the civet, cumin, castoreum and amber musks surging to the forefront, pushing the woods and their barbecue smoke to the sidelines. This essentially marks a transition phase where Peau de Bete moves from a land-based olfactory animalic accord (horses, earth, grasses, woods) to a human skin one that is sexual in scent, skin-like in textural feel, and skin-like also in sillage as well. Basically, sex skin and sweaty balls.
That’s it really it for the rest of Peau de Bete’s development. In its late stage, there is a soft, spicy sweetness to the dirty muskiness that is really delightful. There is also a sort of golden feel to the notes, a velvety softness that, once in a blue moon, hints at traces of salt on heated skin, but it’s a subtle suggestion more than a concrete, distinct, and powerful Ambrarome note. For the most part, Peau de Bete’s final hours really consist of an incredibly sexy muskiness that is heated, quietly spiced, and wholly suggestive of post-sex skin.
Peau de Bete had good longevity, low projection, and low sillage on my skin. I’ve already mentioned the opening numbers with my standard 2-spray quantity. Using that amount, Peau de Bete became a skin scent just short of the 3.25 hour mark; it lasted 8.5 hours, but I had to put my nose right on the skin to detect it after the 6th hour. The fragrance was so soft that I tested it with a larger amount than my norm, as well as a smaller one. Basically, with a 1-spray equivalent, Peau de Bete became a skin scent about 2.5 hours in, and lasted just a bit over 6.75 hours. With a 3-spray amount, it took almost 4.25-4.5 hours to become a skin scent, became difficult to detect without effort after the 6th hour again, but lasted just shy of 11 hours in total. In short, Peau de Bete is there on one’s skin, but it’s so discreet and soft that you won’t detect it until you make an effort or unless someone sniffs you intimately. The latter is a fitting symbolic parallel in many ways.
There isn’t a lot of discussion about Peau de Bete out there, and I think the reason is two-fold. Part of it stems from the fact that this isn’t the easiest fragrance to find and try. Quite a few of Les Liquides Imaginaires’ regular retailers don’t carry it, even though they have all the other fragrances in the line, and I suspect they think Peau de Bete would not sell well since it’s not a fragrance with wide, easy appeal or versatility. In that regard, they would be correct because I have to emphasize again that this is NOT a fragrance for the average perfumista.
In fact, I would not recommend it to anyone except that narrow group who loved the base notes and sex aroma of fragrances like Salome. Peau de Bete is exactly that, minus the chypre and floral top layers. Personally, I think that the animalics in Peau de Bete may be even milder than the Salome levels, and certainly much less hardcore than the ones in Maai, but how you interpret Peau de Bete’s degree of “skank,” “raunch,” or “filth” will depend on a few things. It’s not only your individual skin chemistry but, more importantly, your level of experience with such scents and, thus, the lens through which you filter or process the aromas.
If you’re used to the modern style of perfumery with its “fresh and clean” aromas, then you may well conclude, as the Telegraph‘s journalist did, that Peau de Bete was “the eau de parfum that makes you smell like horse sweat and faeces.” It will be your experience levels that determine if you sigh ecstatically like my mother, or if you interpret it as the journalist did:
Imagine riding through the forest, bareback, possibly butt naked and you’re three quarters there.
It’s not all about horse though. If you’re wondering what the ‘human’ bit of the fragrance is, well – and there’s no polite way to put this – it’s pretty much the unmistakable smell of man bits (“ball musk” if you will), an odour recognisable to all men (and plenty of women) and one whose ‘attractiveness’ divides opinion even more than current series of the X Factor. […][¶]
The result of these ingredients is an extraordinarily potent concoction whose overtly sexual notes come together to create something that’s more pornography than perfumery. So filthy is it that it makes fragrances that purport to be sexy and sensual, like Gucci Guilty Black, and Calvin Klein’s Obsession, appear to be the kind of scents you’d wear to a boring business meeting.
Certainly the women who’ve smelt Peau De Bête on me were intrigued, describing it, variously, as “intense”, “compelling” and “having a certain something” (I didn’t mention the skatole). [snip]
See, he’s used to fragrances like Calvin Klein Obsession for his baseline definition of “sexy and sensual,” so it’s hardly a surprise that he found Peau de Bete to be olfactory “pornography.” Many thought the same of Salome when it was released, reeling back in horror, while those who wore, loved, or knew of fragrances like vintage Femme simply shrugged at the claims of “filth” and sniffed it rapturously. It will be the same story here.
For Persolaise, Peau de Bete was hardly pornographic filth and most certainly not “the hoof-stomping, nostril-flaring Minotaur some would have us believe,” but a “compelling” fragrance due to its balance and its textural feel. His review reads, in part, as follows:
yes, there’s no denying that bodily, near-scatological odours form the sinuous backbone of this fragrance’s composition: you can’t use substantial quantities of cumin, cloves and leather materials – made transparent through the use of cedar and citrus notes – without evoking steaming flesh. But it’s the nature of the fabric covering the backbone – the texture of the perfume – that’s far more compelling. Situated somewhere between velvet, suede and angora, it envelops the wearer like a hybrid epidermis, sleek and inscrutable, yet concealing a deep-rooted core of heat.
For him, Peau de Bete had perfect pitch and balance, thereby overcoming issues that he found in other recent releases — Alaia, Salome, and Malle’s Monsieur — because it managed to be distinctive, beautiful, “skin-hugging,” and have a personality but without going overboard (like Salome or Monsieur) in terms of filth or “testosterone.” “Somehow, Peau De Bête succeeds where all three of those scents fall short, and it does so without ever raising the volume of its growl.”
On Fragrantica, there are only three reviews at this time and they are, as you might expect for a fragrance like this, mixed in nature. “Q80,” the Fragrantica writer known as Sergey Borisov, calls it a “skunk” scent that left him feeling “disturbed.” He added:
there is something in this juice that makes me extremely disliking it and at the same time there is something that attracts me and pull me to it, It’s like a LOVE HATE on one plate.
A second commentator, “kl99” writes:
A bitter sweet fragrance. Dry spices. Real leather. Dark Liqueur. Smell like a warm sweet zoo somehow. [¶] Interesting. [¶] Can’t describe more.
Not such great longevity or sillage. Quite weak.
The third poster, “RockettoSheila,” starts off with a “horse walked into a bar” joke, writing:
a horse walks into a bar…
hard to describe, like LM Hard Leather, but without the “palmolive” sweet musk, like MKK, but without the “dead ashtray pencil shavings Moscow nightclub armpit” smell …that is replaced by a something more naturally clean and “alive”… no ashtray, no armpit, no dirt… more like “food” smells, like fresh baked bread, salami, and dirty martinis…the sweetness isn’t quite vanilla or tonka, more like hot buttered rum, there is a definite “hair and skin smell” to the leather, maybe a dash of saddle soap to really bring the horse to life… like all good fragrances, it won’t smell like you have something “ON you”, so much as people might assume this is just how you smell, as it somehow shares the right amount of “human” notes to overlap…..yes, weak sillage, but so cozy and purring, it is not meant to be a shout [Emphasis to other perfume names added by me.]
If you love animalic musks, skanky orientals, or are looking for the unadulterated base layer of Salome without anything else, then I strongly recommend trying Peau de Bete, if you can find a sample. Given the sillage issue, I would advise testing first, unless you know from ahead of time both the scent of Salome and the fact that you would enjoy skin-hugging discreetness.
For me, that sillage was too, too low for my personal tastes, but I contemplated buying a bottle nonetheless to layer under other fragrances (ambers, florals, leathers). The one thing that stopped me is that Peau de Bete is rather expensive to buy solely and purely as an occasional layering base. It is €250 or £230 for a 100 ml bottle, which is roughly $283 at today’s rate of currency exchange. As noted earlier, several of Les Liquides Imaginaires’ retailers have chosen not to carry Peau de Bete, and that includes its only US retailers at the time of this review, Luckyscent, Barney’s, and Portland’s Fumerie. However, samples are easy to obtain, both in America and Europe, including some European retailers who ship worldwide. (See the Details section for links.)
The long and short of it is that Peau de Bete will be a sexy beast for those who love dirty musks and skanky animalic fragrances, but unlikely to appeal to anyone else. Try it at your own risk if this is a genre of perfumery that you don’t know well.