NOUN, the latest release from Bogue‘s Antonio Gardoni, is a limited-edition special that was created to celebrate the fifteen-year anniversary of Los Angeles’ Scent Bar, better known by its online division’s name, Luckyscent.
For me, the fragrance ended up being quite a surprise, though not for the reasons that I had anticipated. Given the nature of both my experiences and the scent itself, I’m going to take a very different approach to this review than my norm. Instead of breaking down the scent’s development over the hours, as I usually do, I will focus predominantly on the broad strokes and on NOUN’s notes. It will make more sense once you hear the story.
NOUN is a pure parfum or extrait that was released last Friday. Only 50 bottles were produced, and they are exclusive to Luckyscent. The note list, according to Luckyscent, is:
Bergamot, yuzu, mandarin, petitgrain, buchu, black pepper, mint, basil, mustard seed, cassis, rosemary, ylang ylang, jasmine, rose, lavender, geranium, rosewood, labdanum, olibanum, sandalwood, benzoin, patchouli, vanilla, tonka, siam wood, vetiver, cedar
That note list ends up playing a big part in the story of my NOUN tests, as you will see much later on. And that story is partially why I’m not going to quote Luckyscent’s scent description. Judging by my experience and those of two others who have written early reviews, I don’t think the Luckyscent description presents the fullest picture of what NOUN may smell like on your skin.
My tale begins late last December when, out of the blue, I received a surprise package from Mr. Gardoni containing a small manufacturer’s atomizer sample bearing the name, “NOUN.” There was no scent description, no note list, and no copy prose to accompany the sample — nothing at all, in fact, to suggest what type of fragrance it was, what it was about, or what was in it. I learnt a mere handful of its notes for the first time three weeks ago, but it was not until six days ago, Friday, January 19th, when Luckyscent launched the fragrance, that I actually learnt of the full note list. Basically, I operating in complete blindness for my two earliest encounters with NOUN and was guessing at the notes. You will want to keep that in mind for the first part of this tale.
When I first sniffed NOUN, I was hit with a dark, dense, impenetrable bouquet that felt as though it had been painted in broad brushstrokes with several familiar accords. No matter how many times I’ve tested NOUN (and it’s four times by now), it has never been a fragrance which has lent itself well to dissection or to my sort of parsing of individual notes. While there are a several specific, highly individualized notes which continuously pop up and occasional glimmers of some others, this is a composition which, for the most part and especially when taken as a whole, feels as though it’s been constructed with big blocks of smell.
On my skin, these building blocks were quite familiar to me because I’ve encountered them before in the Bogue line. First, there was the brief, momentary opening whiff of aromatics which smelled like aromatic, fougère-like lavender, lavender that had been slathered over smoky, tarry, resinous leather which, in turn, had been licked by a quietly animalic dark muskiness. This is the core building block at the heart of Bogue’s old Cologne Reloaded, a limited-edition scent which is sadly no longer available due to its vintage stock of rare materials running out.
Quickly joining that Cologne Reloaded block is a blast of smoked, cured meats hanging from a frame in a butcher’s fumerie. Their wood smoke initially bears the scent of a very tough, butch woody-amber aromachemical, but that is soon overshadowed by the more typical woody-leather aroma of campfire smoke and birch tar leather. These smoky, woody, leathery elements are sewn together with thick threads of mesquite barbecue (both the woods and the actual mesquite barbecued meats), then everything is coated with warm, dark resins. On my skin, the latter smell like leathery styrax combined with sweeter resins (benzoin and toffee’d labdanum). When taken as a whole, everything in this segment of NOUN’s bouquet with the exception of the specific “mesquite” aroma, strongly reminds me of the base accords in Bogue’s Gardelia mixed with Gardelia’s initial, opening five-minute smoked-meat aroma.
NOUN shifts quickly. Roughly 20 minutes in, MEM and O/E‘s building blocks or accords join the party. One minute my arm is wafting fruity-floral, herbaceous, green, lavender-ish aromatics which resemble the complex aromatics in MEM (minus the heavy malt beer and maltose caramel sweetness). The next, the emphasis is more on O/E‘s central core of Alpine citrus-herbal Ricola lozenges mushed together with Cologne Reloaded‘s smoky, tarry, blackened leather, Gardelia‘s leathery woods, a few medicinal aromas, and loads of crisp, tangy-tart-sweet-sour grapefruit. The Gardelia-esque smoked-meats-campfire top note and its main, dominant musky-amber base accord weave in and out as well. The net-effect sounds like it’s a lot to take in but, really, the vast majority of NOUN on my skin can be summed up as variations on certain key O/E, Gardelia, and Cologne Reloaded’s accords, joined together by grapefruit and a pinch of MEM-like lavender.
Roughly 40 minutes in, the O/E impression grows even stronger in my mind. A quiet urinousness awakens in the base and starts to send out a slightly animalic muskiness up to the top. At the same time, the lavender fades away and is replaced by a mentholated muscle-rub aroma, trailed by a honeyed sweetness. The sum total effect of everything together continually reads to me as a further progression of the themes explored in O/E and Gardelia. For those who may be unfamiliar with O/E, my review was all about: Ricola lemon-herb lozenges; the cleaning product disinfectant freshness of Mr. Clean (no, I’m not joking); mentholated muscle rub; aromatics; dry woods; herbaceous greenness; smoky notes; syrupy, honeyed sweetness; and, later, a sharp, really ammonia-like urinousness which reminded me, unfortunately, of litter boxes and a Tomcat, lifting his leg to mark his territory.
I want to be clear, however, that NOUN is thankfully not a verbatim rendition of O/E’s unpleasant aspects. (My apologies, Mr. Gardoni, you know my feelings about O/E.) No, instead, it’s the spirit of O/E and some of its better accords. To my great relief, there is no Mr. Clean disinfectant, no ammonia-like honey, no cat urine ammonia, and no litter boxes. The notes which have been borrowed — Ricola, herbaceousness, sweet-sour citrus fruits, syrupy sweetness, aromatics, dry woods, resins, smoke — have been fused with melodies from other Bogue songs and/or have been edited, refined, and quietened down as compared to O/E. The end result is an broad, layered accord which is O/E’s genetic descendant but which has been refined, improved, and freed of its brutish, feral, and unbalanced traits. Think of it as a Neanderthal who gives way to Homo sapiens many generations later and whose primate features have been smoothed over. (Sorry, not sorry, O/E. You know we’re not friends.)
Having said that, not everything has been edited down or smoothed over. In addition to the flickers of menthol muscle rub, NOUN also exhibit stirrings of a certain pink rubberiness at one point towards the end of the first hour and, once a while, a weird, inexplicable, plastic cellophane-like freshness in the background. The latter was just the merest touch, but it was enough to remind me of something that Mr. Gardoni once said to me about O/E. While I can’t recall all the exact specifics roughly three years later, the basic gist of it was that he was intellectually inspired by the thought of fruit or a fruit basket from which one peels back the outer plastic covering to reveal a host of other things underneath. I raise this point to show just how many times and in how many ways I thought of O/E, but don’t mistake my point to think NOUN reeks of cellophane. It doesn’t; it’s like the smallest thing. What is much more pronounced is that rubberiness which veers between Bvlgari Black leather rubberiness, pink rubber band-aids and, once in a blue moon, something like a caoutchouc plant’s rubber sap. I can’t explain it but I find it so perplexing, even if it’s far from being a major aroma or scent impression. When I was smelling NOUN blindly, I initially guessed that it stemmed from the Cologne Reloaded-like smoky, blackened leather, but who really knows? So much of this fragrance feels to me like a Plautus-ean and Shakespearean foray in the “Appearance versus Reality” literary construct.
The central and, really, the only truly relevant thing that you need to understand is the rather striking effect of the song created by mixing various O/E, NOUN, Cologne Reloaded, and Gardelia melodies. There is a juxtaposition of crisp, fresh, clean, citrusy, tart-sweet-sour, fruity, aromatic, herbal, and Ricola-like aromas against completely contrary aromas of: smoky leather, dark woods, dark musks, and the stickiest of amber resins, as well as varying, fluctuating degrees of urinous animalics, medicinal muscle-rub menthol, and pink rubberiness. It’s a more polished version of the juxtapositions that Mr. Gardoni attempted with O/E, and that makes NOUN feel like a further progression and exploration of the same general themes. (Having said that, when I told Mr. Gardoni of my impressions of NOUN, he was a little surprised because none of these call-backs, thematic references, or olfactory similarities were intentional or even conscious.)
Not every part of the two fragrances matches up perfectly, though: NOUN has pronounced aromas of mesquite BBQ, smoked mesquite wood, and smoke-cured meats which OE never had, while O/E had strong ISO E Super, ammonia, and tobacco notes which NOUN does not. Plus, their individual balance of notes varies quite a bit. Be that as it may, every single time that I’ve tested NOUN, O/E has always been the central call-back along with Gardelia. To be absolutely precise: “The Refined, Improved Version of O/E” meshed together with Gardelia’s base accords.
That is the general feel, vibe, and focus of NOUN on my skin during its long heart stage, but things shift when the drydown begins. It usually starts somewhere around the 7th hour, and the focus moves away from O/E and Cologne Reloaded to emphasize what I’m coming to think of as Antonio Gardoni’s signature drydown: a darkly burnished, bronzed and golden, musky velvetiness, composed out of ambered resins (particularly benzoin), layered with what I thought was castoreum, civet, and some ambrette. The bouquet is not dirty or skanky, not properly animalic at all, but there are clearly animalic elements at play to create that thick, “dark musk”-like texture and feeling. Swirling abstractly around this central musky-amber core are fluctuating amounts of smokiness, caramel-ish sweetness, and a soft, abstract, warm woodiness which I’m guessing is the sandalwood, though it never reads clearly as such on my skin.
This is, basically, Gardelia‘s drydown or a very close sibling thereof. But, if you really think about it, you can trace Gardelia’s drydown back in a direct line to the rather similar ones in MAAI and Aeon 001. Heck, it goes back to O/E as well! In re-reading my review, I saw that I specifically singled out “a thick, enveloping blanket of dark warmth,” or an ambered “dark haze” as the “predominant impression” of the later hours. In addition, “the sandalwood and benzoin together are definitely responsible for much of the soft, plush, almost pillowy quality to the darker notes.” All of this is quite similar to NOUN, except NOUN has no tobacco and its sandalwood is buried (within the Gardelia base accord) on my skin.
My larger point is: I find that Mr. Gardoni has really developed a broad signature for his drydowns and/or his bases, even if it has developed unconsciously and organically. And I think it’s clear that he naturally gravitates towards certain accords or notes, using them frequently. That’s not necessarily a negative thing, by the way. A number of perfumers do the same thing. For example, Serge Lutens once had cumin-cedar as his signature; Vero Profumo loves her sweet-salty-skanky vetiver-honey accord à la Onda; and Josh Lobb’s signature for a good number of his early fragrances was an intense, thick, heavy, sometimes cloyingly sweet unctuousness. (Occasionally, he also liked to employ an opening spice blend which resembled the sort found in potpourri. In later years, he sometimes repeated a certain smoky, incense-y, woody-amber accord in the base.)
Going back to NOUN, its drydown doesn’t change in any major way from the 7th hour onwards. The scent merely gets softer, quieter, more satiny, and more golden. In the final hours, all that’s left is a golden, sweet-dry warmth with occasional, lingering vestiges of something alternatively smoky, musky or woody about it.
NOUN had very good longevity, average projection, and initially strong sillage. With a few good sprays from the manufacturer’s atomizer roughly equal to 2 sprays from an actual bottle, NOUN typically opened with 4 inches of projection, and roughly 6-7 inches of sillage, though its cloud would grow even larger whenever I moved. It typically took about 8.5 hours for NOUN to become a skin scent, but it remained easy to detect without much effort until the 13th hour when it really clung to the skin. In total, I usually had about 17.25 to 18 hours of longevity with that 2-spray equivalent. With double that amount, NOUN usually lasted 22 to 24 hours, and faint traces of it once remained even after a shower. However, it was easiest to detect during for the first 15 to 16 hours.
Do you remember my mentioning at the start of the review NOUN’s note list and how it would play a role in my testing story? Well, this is the point where it becomes relevant. Everything that I’ve described pertains to what NOUN smells like on my skin and to my nose in all four of my tests, the first two of which were done blindly without knowing any of the fragrance’s notes. After those first two, I contacted Mr. Gardoni to give him a rough outline of what I had experienced. You could have knocked me over with a feather when he informed me that NOUN was (and he’s given me permission to quote him): “Essentially […] a work about the beast called patchouli[.]”
I blinked when I read that and was utterly confounded. This was supposed to be a patchouli-driven fragrance??! If you had put a gun to my head, never in a million years would this Patch Head have thought NOUN was meant to be focused on patchouli, of all things, let alone a beastly amount of it. In fact, the thought of patchouli never once crossed my mind. Every aroma that could possibly signify patchouli could just have as easily come from some other material; I detected nothing on my skin and to my nose within those big building block accords that would clearly and unmistakably translate to “patchouli.”
In hindsight, though, I suppose there should have been some signifier of it in NOUN’s heavy mesquite barbecue aroma during the first 2 to 3 hours, because I’ve encountered that before in a patchouli fragrance, though it was just once and quite a long time ago: LM Parfum‘s Patchouly Boheme. It, too, has a powerful mesquite woods and mesquite barbecued meats aroma in its first half. But “mesquite barbecue” is such an unusual — arguably unorthodox — scent profile for patchouli that I’m not going to beat myself up for not recognizing it. Plus, Mr. Gardoni also added that one of his big goals with NOUN was: “how you can use a lot of [patchouli] in a formula and at the same time […] do all you can to hide it.” Well, mission accomplished because, on my skin, that is one prodigiously well disguised and hidden patchouli!
I’m telling you all this not only because I think it’s relevant but also because this is one of those fragrances where one could go a little nutty in comparing how NOUN may smell on your skin versus what’s listed in the notes or versus what the fragrance is supposedly centered around. The note list and official descriptions simply didn’t match up to what my nose encountered. Not by a long shot. In fact, it’s been quite a while since I encountered a fragrance whose alchemical transformations on my skin were quite as dramatically divergent from the official mark as this one.
The patchouli is only the start of it. When I spoke to Mr. Gardoni on January 4th, he revealed a handful of notes, and, once again, I was taken aback at the materials he mentioned versus what I actually experiencing. He told me there was: cassis, ylang ylang, jasmine, buchu, and green notes.
Cassis?! I was getting loads of grapefruit! I fact, it wasn’t until Friday when I saw the detailed note list on Luckyscent that I learnt NOUN officially did contain some citruses (i.e., the bergamot, yuzu, and mandarin). From the little that Mr. Gardoni shared about the notes in initial correspondence 3 weeks ago, I’d ended up thinking that cassis must be the only fruit, so you can imagine how loony I felt at smelling tangy-tart, sweet-sour, crisp-sharp grapefruit instead. When Mr. Gardoni later told me that he’s noticed “the grapefruit effect” on his skin as well, even though there isn’t a drop of the stuff in the fragrance, I was so relieved. I was even more relieved when I saw yuzu and bergamot on the Luckyscent note list. Even if I couldn’t detect either of them individually, I finally had some sort of explanation for how I ended up with “grapefruit.”
But there are other notes that are also completely hidden for me. Luckyscent‘s Franco Wright described NOUN in a recent interview as being “a wildly complex fragrance that is a study of rose and patchouli, but when you smell it, it does not smell like a rose or patchouli.” Well, I’m glad he added that last bit because, no, NOUN does not smell of roses to me. Ever. Similarly, Mr. Gardoni spoke of ylang ylang and jasmine to me, but not once have I ever detected ylang-ylang in any of distinct, clear olfactory fashion while testing the fragrance.
However, having said all that, things became a little clearer when I doubled my application dose from 2 good sprays (roughly equal to 2 sprays from an actual bottle) to 4 sprays. Well, a little clearer. Some of them. Sort of. As I said before, NOUN is not an easy scent to parse and dissect and, even at a higher dose, the contours of many of its notes remained buried within the central building blocks, all of which are painted in thick, wide, dense, heavy slashes. Nevertheless, doubling the dose helped a few things to peek out: after 20 minutes, the crisp, sweet-sour fruity accord went beyond grapefruit to also include the tart-tangy, fruity, and very musky aroma of cassis; around the same time, the sweet aspects of the scent occasionally suggested honeyed jasmine syrup mixed in with some sort of fruit jam; and the broad “musky” accord sometimes hinted at both cassis and jasmine’s indolic side.
But that was about as clear as things got. Everything else is either disguised or it reads as a by-product of some completely different material. For example, I’ve actually tried Buchu essential oil in the past, but NOUN’s urinousness always read as “civet” to me, not buchu, and I had guessed that the dark muskiness was due to civet combined with castoreum and ambrette, not cassis. Basil, mustard seed, mint, geranium, and rosemary never appear in clear, distinct form, though I suppose I should have guessed the rosemary because it makes up part of O/E’s Ricola accord. Finally, Mr. Gardoni told me that NOUN’s “green notes are the not so used buchu together with cassis and mustard seeds” but, honestly, I didn’t think NOUN skewed particularly green at all. What little there was that did feel a bit green, I simply chalked up to the Ricola herb-citrus-alpine accord and the lavender’s aromatic side. As for the florals, there is not one obvious whiff of rose or ylang on me no matter what I do. I guess the rose must play some indirect part in the fruity sweetness of the first few hours, and I guess the ylang must be partially responsible at the end for drydown’s velvety textural feel, but my skin does not actually smell of either flower. Those two flowers are just as well hidden on my skin as the patchouli (and about half the other notes).
Bottom line and the point of all this is: if you’re going solely by the note list in order to decide whether or not NOUN is for you, or to figure out what it may smell like, don’t. Instead, order a sample and see what happens. I realize the words “Bogue,” “limited edition,” and “only 50 bottles” can cast quite a powerful spell on perfumistas if Bogue is one of their favourite houses. There are some people who may throw their usual caution to the wind at the thought of such a small quantity and at the sight of a note list which includes everything from citrus to aromatics, sandalwood, resin, rich florals, and a whole host of other ingredients. But my advice is to test first and not to let the note list (and the finite number of bottles) drive your purchasing decision, because that list may not have a huge bearing on what actually ends up wafting from your skin.
That certainly seemed to be the case as well for my friend, Claire Vukcevic of Take One Thing Off. Our overall impressions were quite similar, and our scent experiences in a few instances were identical. For example, I almost fell out of my chair when I saw “Ricola” explicitly mentioned in her review. And she experienced the cooked/savoury meat note, too. In addition, she also noticed Mr. Gardoni’s signatures in NOUN and also experienced a sort of disconnect between the note list and the scent on her arm. At one point, she writes: “What I smell in Noun is not really what’s listed[.]” Later, she says: “The Luckyscent description for Noun emphasizes the patchouli and benzoin elements to Noun; that’s slightly misleading, in my opinion. Don’t order a sample of Noun thinking that this is a huge patch or an oriental beast, because it’s not.” You can read her review in full on your own to see what notes she did experienced, to what degree, or in what form. I’ll simply say that I have the sense that, for her, as for me, NOUN is not the sort of thing that she’d break down the doors to buy or wear. I’ve read Ms. Vukcevic enough to notice the very polite, extremely clinical detachment that imbues her analysis when a scent is not her personal thing, even if she may respect its perfumer or some of its parts.
I want to move onto the perfume database sites. NOUN was released just six days ago, so Fragrantica doesn’t have an entry page for it as of yet. You can check the site’s overall Bogue page in the weeks ahead to see when or if it’s been added. Basenotes also doesn’t have an individual entry page yet either, but there are early reactions or scent descriptions in a Basenotes discussion thread from two people who have tried it, starting at comment #15. For “TheBeck,” his reaction to NOUN seems to have been a firm “no,” judging by his simple but telling line: “Let’s just say I won’t be finishing my sample.”
The only detailed description in that thread thus far comes from “LostBoyR.” It’s written across three posts, so I’ve taken the liberty of compiling them into one single quotation, delineated by numbers:
- I received a sample of this this afternoon. I’ve given it an initial dab on the wrist and I can say I’ll need some time to really understand this one. Noun opens on my skin with a bright herbal quality, yellow-green in color. It’s slightly sharp and also has a mentholated quality to it. After a few minutes the herbs take on a much more savory quality. Kitchen spice is what comes to mind. The menthol dies down at this point in the development, thankfully. Slowly the florals show themselves, soft and only slightly sweet. I can’t identy any one floral over the other, just a soft roundness that balances and tempers the herbal, spice quality. There is something sharp, herbal, and slightly sour that I can’t identify peeking from behind the florals. Is this the mustard seed perhaps? After this, floral and spice give way to woods, an earthy patchouli, and a dark sweetness. I’m going to have to live with this one for a while and see how my thoughts and perceptions evolve beyond these first impressions. It’s not love at first sniff but there is definitely enough of interest going on to continue evaluating. It challenges me and I like that.
- I am really enjoying the dry down. The roadblock for me is gong to be the opening.
- There is a certain ‘Chinese Medicine’ aspect to the opening and the mid. I get something similar in Kyoto Gyoen from Rising Phoenix. I’ll have to do a side by side soon.
For me personally, NOUN is not my thing. I told that to Mr. Gardoni quite candidly. I find the fragrance fascinating as an olfactory case-study on the development of the Gardoni aesthetic, signature, and themes, and I thoroughly enjoyed playing “Spot That Accord” or “Spot The Bogue Antecedent,” but these are intellectual pleasures and I wouldn’t actually wear NOUN. It just doesn’t mesh on an olfactory level with my personal tastes in notes, aromas, and accords. Plus, I simply do not enjoy anything that evokes the first half of O/E, even if it is the “Refined, Improved Version of O/E.” (Sorry, not sorry, O/E.) Having said that, I actually do like NOUN’s drydown quite a bit, but that should come as no surprise since it is a variation on the Gardoni drydown signature which I’ve enjoyed in Gardelia, Aeon, MAAI, et al.
Even though I wouldn’t wear NOUN for myself, I think there are some guys whom it may suit well. To be specific: the guys who love O/E (duh!) and who would enjoy a mash-up of parts of O/E, Cologne Reloaded, Gardelia’s base accords, and the Gardoni signature drydown with just a pinch of MEM tossed in as well. Separate from the hardcore Bogue fanboys and O/E lovers, I think men who love citrus, herbal-aromatic, resinous, smoky-woody orientals without overt, obvious florals, roses, or patchouli might want to consider a test sniff, so long as they also love the sort of mesquite barbecued smoked meats and mesquite charred wood aromas that marked LM Parfum’s Patchouly Boheme in its first half. But, really, I think the dispositive and tricky factor will be your feelings about O/E: if you reveled in all its facets, aromas, and accords — brutish or challenging as some of them could be in the first half– then you would probably like its more refined genetic descendent. Otherwise, hmm. Really, in all cases, my advice would be to sample first.
Relevant details/links: $210 for 50 ml of pure parfum. Only 50 bottles have been produced. The fragrance is exclusive to Luckyscent which also sells samples and ships worldwide.
Disclosure: My sample was kindly provided by Mr. Gardoni. That did not impact this review. I do not do paid reviews, and my opinions are my own.