Perfume Review: Agonist The Infidels

Agonist is a Swedish perfume house launched in 2008 whose focus seems to be the close interplay of perfume and sculptured art within the context of Norse culture. As the company’s website explains:

AGONIST creates pure 100% natural fragrances inspired by the Nordic climate and culture. Raw materials and product give form to a Swedish but even more Nordic clarity, – fresh with a vigourous weight and beautiful low tones.

In close collaboration with prominent perfumers, unique Eau de Parfums are created according to the traditional art of fine perfumery. The fragrances are then artistically sculptured  in handcrafted Swedish glass created in collaboration with glassartist Āsa Jungnelius at Kosta Boda.

Agonist The Infidels Refill BottleIn the case of The Infidels, it seems to be the second in a series of perfumes that began with The Infidel, singular. (Fragrantica says The Infidels is the third, but doesn’t give the name of the second in the series.) The issue of The Infidel, singular, seems to be a confusing one since it is a perfume with fundamentally different elements. And, yet, many reviews of The Infidels, plural, bring up the notes (black current or cassis, green cumin, lavender, etc.) of its predecessor.

The Infidels, plural, is an oriental perfume which Agonist describes as follows:

The Infidels. A deep 100% natural perfume inspired by the exact moment when the bud is about to burst. The heart of the rose with a deep and sensual ambience.

Top Notes: Pink Pepper Corn, Sicilian Lemon, Cloves, Indian Davana and Elemi

Body Notes: May Rose, Turkish Rose, Sambac Jasmine, Egyptian Jasmine, Burmese Magnolia, Iris, Comoros Ylang Ylang, Somali Myrrh, Opoponax

Base Notes: Patchouli, Sandalwood, Vetiver, Cistus, Peruvian Balm, Lebanese Cedarwood, Virginia Cedarwood, Indian Amber, Bourbon Vanilla.

Between the notes and the perfume name which conjured up images of The Crusades and the Middle East, I was enormously excited to try The Infidels. I was certain I’d be taken to the desert, to Constantinople, to North Africa, to a land filled with molten resins and frankincense. Given that long list of heady notes, it was a sure bet it would be something deliciously ambered and oriental. Imagine my utter disbelief then when I was taken to a 7-11 filled with… Juicy Fruit. Yes, Juicy Fruit gum, only in solid syrup form. Hours and hours of Juicy Fruit syrup without end….

The Infidels opens on my skin with lemons and cloves, backed by pink peppercorns and apricot-infused florals. From what I’ve read, Davana is a flower native to India with an apricot aroma — and it is a heavy component of the Infidels. In the opening seconds, it is backed by some other fruity note that is tart, almost like green plums or cassis, but not quite. There is also some sweetly nutty smoke, elemi pepper, velvety magnolia, jasmine and rose. It’s an extremely unusual combination, and it sits atop a subtle booziness that feels almost like a melony-lemon liqueur. Not Midori, but some sort of odd, fruity cocktail liqueur that goes far beyond the usual rum-like nuance to many ambers.

As the minutes pass, some notes deepen while new ones join the party. The magnolia becomes significantly more pronounced: lovely, lush, smoothly buttered and rich, but never sour or over-ripe in an indolic way. There are soft, flickering touches of iris that add to the overall velvety creaminess of the florals. Sweet patchouli and lemon-nuanced vetiver lend a small voice in the background. And, at the base, the myrrh overshadows the frankincense with its nutty, sweet, almost vanillic warmth; its smoke tendrils are soft and muted. Then, suddenly, a strong banana aroma, undoubtedly from the ylang-ylang, comes barreling through, joining the dominant apricot-lemon-pink peppercorns fruity aspect of The Infidels.

Juicy Fruit gumWithin twenty minutes, all subtle nuances in the perfume disappear, and The Infidels becomes a solid wall of one thing and one thing only: Juicy Fruit chewing gum. Imagine the scent of the chewing gun, then concentrate it down by a thousand, put it above the faintest iota of sweetened vanillic amber, and that is The Infidels. The scent is thick and, in its nauseatingly cloying sweetness and richness, feels almost more like the sort of highly sweetened but artificial cough syrup that one gives children to lull them into thinking they’re not having actual medicine. It is one solid, immovable, unshakeable, unwavering wall. Nothing else flickers underneath it; nothing else has the remotest chance of competing against that barrage. And it never changes for the 10.75 hours that The Infidels lasted on my skin. It only becomes softer and, at the very end, a tiny bit musky but, no, it was Juicy Fruit until its dying breath.

The Infidels had very good longevity and moderate sillage. It was strong at first, wafting about 5 inches above the skin, before dropping around 40 minutes into the perfume’s development to hover an inch or two. Within that space, it was forceful. I actually felt my stomach churning at times wearing it. So much so that when I tried to make dinner, the sheer cloying strength of that Juicy Fruit syrup completely put me off eating.

In reading the reviews on Fragrantica, one thing is clear to me: a number of people are really writing about The Infidel, singular, perfume with its notes of black currant and green cumin. The rest…. well, the comments are all over the place from references to powder to a few who smelled cough syrup and general weirdness.

Even Now Smell This seems to have confused the two fragrances, writing:

The Infidels contains notes of blackcurrant, green cumin, bergamot, magnolia, tonka bean, lavender, patchouli, labdanum and amber.

The Infidels is a beautifully blended leather fragrance with spicy and floral accents. The Infidels goes on soft and smooth with lots of  “silky” labdanum; don’t expect a “shock” of blackcurrant or green cumin (each of these notes has been “blunted” in the composition — I think even cumin-haters won’t mind the sweet/powdery cumin in The Infidels).

The Infidels, plural, original bottle.

The Infidels, plural, original bottle.

Making matters more confusing, they even show the red bottle of The Infidels for a discussion of notes from The Infidel, singular, which has a blue bottle (with something resembling a bloodied hatchet). And, speaking of the bottles, that is all that a lot of people initially discussed when The Infidel (singular) and, then, The Infidels (plural) were released. You see, the bottles are somewhat of a big deal. As in a huge, ridiculously over-priced, artsy-fartsy deal.

The Infidel, singular, bottle.

The Infidel, singular, bottle. Original, non-refill version.

Initially, back in 2010, each perfume bottle seemed to cost almost $500 because they were only available in those hand-blown, sculpted shapes from the famous Swedish Kosta Boda glass works factory. Now Smell This’ review for The Infidels spends more discussing the bottle than it does the black currant and green cumin in the perfume. (It’s in the other one! The singular one!) The Infidels (plural) red bottle supposedly has steel pins which you use to apply the scent — which just makes me think of a grenade wielded by someone into agony and S&M. (Given the bloodied hatchet look of the Infidel bottle, I’m really starting to wonder about whomever chose “Agonist” for the brand’s name.) On Luckyscent, almost two-thirds of the comments focus on the cost of the bottle.

Well, Agonist must have heard the outcry because the perfume is now available in “refill” bottles which cost $195 for 1.7 oz/50 ml. That is the affordable, cheap version for poor people. The original, main bottle costs — now, today, in 2013 — almost $1500 at Aedes and over 20,000 rubles in Russia’s Lenoma. (See Details section below.) Yes, for a 50 ml/1.7 oz size. Agonist is clearly very, very serious about the whole concept of perfume as art….

Honestly, even if The Infidels cost the price of a pack of Juicy Fruit gum, I wouldn’t wear it. I’m not even sure how I managed to last almost 11 hours with it. Pun intended, it was an agonizing experience.

Cost & Availability: The Infidels is an eau de parfum that comes in a 1.7oz/50 ml “refill” bottle for $195 or €125. Agonist’s website offers both the “refill” bottle and a handmade “sculpture” art bottle from the famous Kosta Boda glass works factory. It costs €980 or a crazy $1,470 from Aedes in New York. (It used to be over $500 from what I’ve read.) Agonist also sells a Sample Set of 6 perfumes, each in a 2ml vial, for €24. In the U.S.: The Infidels is available in the 1.7 oz bottle from Luckyscent for $195, along with samples. Other vendors are Aedes and HirschleifersThe Perfume Shoppe (which has a store in Canada) sells “1 Travel & Trial Size Spray Atomizer filled w/ Your Choice” of Agonist perfume, including The Infidels, for $65 but it seems a little high for a measly 4 ml spray bottle. Outside the U.S.: I’ve struggled to find websites that carry Agonist fragrances overseas. In the UK, The Infidels is available at Liberty London and The Conran Store for £125. The only other two online sites that I’ve found are First in Fragrance, and Essenza Nobile which sell the 1.7 oz bottle for €125. Elsewhere, and relying on Agonist’s Facebook page, it appears that Agonist is also carried by the Paris department store, Printemps, in its exclusive “Scent Room” and, in Sweden, by the NK Department store. In Australia, apparently Agonist is carried at the Assin concept and high-fashion store. In Kuwait, it is carried by Parfumerie d’Exception. In Russia, Lenoma has the art bottle for a huge price (over 20,000 rubles). Beyond that, I have no clue. The company has no store locator on its website. Samples: Surrender to Chance doesn’t carry Agonist. Your best bet is Luckyscent at the link above.