The Devil slinks into the Garden of Good and Evil, cloaked in red, emitting fire, and adding a painful bite to everything he touches. He curls his way around the cedar tree that smells mostly of green freshness with a tinge of damp earthy sweetness, entwines himself around branches carrying lychees and cassis, and breathes a hot red mist of chili all over it. Then, he vanishes in a puff of crimson smoke, leaving fruits that are sweet with a slightly poisoned, synthetic touch. But his crimson present barely lasts, and the evil drains quickly from the Garden of Eden, returning it back to a state of fruited sweetness. It’s an increasingly abstract “goodness,” a fresh blur of fruits that soon takes on a creamy tone with vanilla, before turning into powdered and a little bit sour in their staleness. That’s what happens when you are Playing with the Devil.
The impact of the Devil in the Garden of Good and Evil has been turned from a whimsical allegory into concrete perfume form by Kilian Hennessey. This month marks the release of Playing With The Devil, an eau de parfum created by Calice Becker. The scent is the fourth edition in Kilian’s In The Garden of Good and Evil collection that was first launched in 20012 and which is centered around a common theme. According to the original press release for the collection (quoted by Now Smell This) and Playing with the Devil‘s description on Luckyscent, “it is the myth of original sin” where “the world of perfume enters into the garden of Eden and shows us another side of the story” with a “tribute to forbidden fruits.”
LuckyScent gives the following notes for Playing with the Devil:
Blood orange, black currant, white peach, lychee, pepper, pimento [chili pepper], cedar, sandalwood, patchouli, Rose, Jasmine, tonka, benzoin, vanilla.
Playing with the Devil opens on my skin a burst of lychee and tart, juicy, zesty, slightly sour blackcurrant. (I’m used to calling it “cassis,” so that’s what I’ll go with from here on out.) There is an unexpected touch of damp earth underlying the scent, which symbolically melts into the very green, leafy images I get from the fruits. On their trail is a fiery chili pepper (pimento) that feels as visually red as the most brutally piercing Scotch Bonnet or Ghost Chili on the market. It’s a very funky, odd, fascinating note because its bite feels a little like the capsaicin that you’d experience if you nibbled on a pimento pepper. Yet, the second time I tested Playing with the Devil, it was largely overwhelmed by a very fresh, clean scent that sometimes borders a little on the soapy, powdery aroma that you’d get from a deodorant. I actually own a deodorant that has some similarities, so it made me grimace a little, I must confess.
In its opening stage, Playing with the Devil is primarily a lychee and cassis fragrance with that fiery chili pepper bite lurking underneath. Minutes into the fragrance’s development, the peach makes its quiet, very muted debut, feeling white, delicate, pastel and almost liquidy like a thin nectar. It’s followed by a slightly smoky, dry, woody note that initially doesn’t feel like cedar but which soon takes on that tree’s aroma. It smells of bright greenness, mixed with pencil shavings and a light touch of smokiness. The blood orange isn’t a very noticeable note at all on my skin. At best, there is something that feels like the suggestion of its tart, citric nature, but it’s only a vague, fleeting impression. Increasingly, however, Playing with the Devil is dominated by the cassis with its tart, sometimes sour freshness leavened a little by the lychee’s watery sweetness.
The note that fascinates me the most is the pimento, a type of chili pepper. I’m rather obsessed with how it appears here, though not always for positive reasons. You see, I tend to have an allergic reaction to the chili peppers where my lips swell up in response to the capsaicin that is so much a part of them. Here, with Playing with the Devil, I feel a slight burning in my throat, a sensation I’ve gotten from some chili peppers on occasion, but also, from some synthetics on a much more common, frequent basis. I find it difficult to believe that Calice Becker used an essential oil derived from chili pepper distillation in Playing with the Devil, so I’m venturing a guess that the pimento note here is largely an aromachemical. Well, congratulations on mirroring the sort of physical reaction that I get from the real thing.
On the other hand, a more sincere, genuine congratulations are in order for such a brilliant piece of symbolism. The intellectual conceit or theory here is damn clever, and I absolutely love the thought of the fiery, red-hot pepper representing Satan in the Garden of Eden, thereby turning it smoky and evil. Intellectually, I was impressed with every bit of it. Perfume wise, I find it an extremely interesting, wholly original counterpoint to the lychee and cassis.
Personally, however, it’s a whole other matter, because I’m not swooning over any of it. Playing with the Devil is pretty on some levels, and I like the effect of the cedar in adding an increasingly dry counter-point to the fruits, but none of it really wows me. I also enjoy the liquidy sweetness of lychee, but that alone is not enough to make the overall fragrance something that really knocks me to my feet. Moreover, the clean, fresh, slightly soapy, faintly powdered aspects of the beginning are most definitely not me. It’s a pretty opening, but perhaps you have to really adore fruity fragrances to really love it, and I’m afraid I’m not one of those people.
At the end of the first hour, Playing with the Devil starts to shift. At first, it’s just the slow stirrings of vanilla in the base, adding a different sort of sweetness to the zesty, tart, slightly green, fresh top notes. At the same time, the fiery, red kick of the chili pepper recedes to the background. There is the vaguest hint of something floral wafting about, but it’s so muted, it’s virtually impossible to really identify. The dry woodiness in the base starts to increase, as does the hint of powderiness. Playing with the Devil’s sillage drops, the notes start to overlap each other, and the fragrance starts to feel a little abstract. These issues were especially noticeable the second time I tested the fragrance, when I put on substantially less of Playing with the Devil. With two small smears, instead of about 4 large ones, the fragrance turned vague and abstract far sooner, became a skin scent more quickly, and the nuances in notes were significantly harder to detect. The capsaicin chili pepper element was also substantially less noticeable, though the burning sensation in my throat remained in a faint way.
In both tests, however, Playing with the Devil became a total blur of fruity notes quite quickly. The first time around, with the large dose, it took about 1.25 hours for the fragrance to turn into a generalized, somewhat abstract haze of tart, sweet fruits atop vague woodiness with vanilla. The most you can really single out from the lot is cassis. Underneath, in the base, there is the start of something synthetic lurking about that isn’t clear or distinguishable, along with a touch of fruited patchouli. The peach, and lychee have largely faded away, replaced by hints of blood orange. The chili pepper has disappeared entirely. The whole thing is a soft bouquet of fresh fruits with patchouli, cedar and vanilla that hovers just barely above the skin in an airy, gauzy blur.
Playing with the Devil continues its subtle changes. By the end of the second hour, the soft, leafy, green feel of the fragrance is joined by a shadow of a dewy, pale, watery pink rose, but it’s an extremely muted note. As a whole, the scent is a soft, cozy, fruity vanilla with an increasingly synthetic patchouli note that burns my nose when smelled up close. Playing with the Devil loses its dryness as the patchouli overwhelms the cedar, and the fragrance takes on even greater sweetness. For some strange reason, I have the subtle impression and feel of green tea, only in a creamy ice-cream version. It comes and goes, however, during the third hour, then dies completely as Playing with the Devil becomes increasingly fresh and clean.
Starting at the fourth hour, the Garden of Eden is a place where all traces of the Devil have been wiped away. The Luckyscent description of Playing with the Devil talks about how naughtiness wins out in the fight between good and evil, but not on my skin. The fragrance is now a completely nebulous haze of clean, fresh sweetness with fruity vanilla and some powder. The latter soon takes over completely. By the 4.5 hour mark, Playing with the Devil is abstract floral-fruity powder with a slight tinge of vanilla underneath. At the 6 hour mark, the powder takes on a slightly sour, stale characteristic, and the fragrance remains that way until its very end. All in all, Playing with the Devil lasted 9.75 hours with a very large dose (4 very big smears) and just over 7.5 hours with a small one (2 small smears). The sillage throughout was moderate to soft.
Playing with the Devil is far too new for there to be extensive reviews out there. On Fragrantica, only two people seem to have tested the perfume, writing:
- smells exactly like “Enchanted Forest” but the blackcurrant note isnt as loud. if you want loud blackcurrant buy Enchanted Forest. if you want a more softer blackcurrant note buy this.
- Fresh, peachy, fruity, bright and feminine. If you like fruity (but not sticky sweet) fragrances, you must try Playing with the devil.
I can detect all the fruits, the peach, cassis, blood orange and lychee. The rose is present but is subtle not overpowering
This is how fruity fragrances should be done. Thumbs up!
My experience with The Vagabond Prince‘s The Enchanted Forest was quite different because I had quite a lot of pine develop on my skin, but I do agree with some of the commentator’s assessment: this is a much softer cassis note. I wasn’t a particular fan of The Enchanted Forest, and I’m not of Playing with the Devil, either, and the reasons are somewhat encapsulated in the second Fragrantica review: it’s a fresh, feminine fruit cocktail. Playing with the Devil is also powdery, somewhat synthetic, quickly abstract, and rather boring. If that fiery pimento had really lasted, maybe my reaction would be different, but I highly doubt it.
I think you have to really love cassis, and “fresh, clean” scents to appreciate Playing with the Devil. You also have to be one of those people for whom blackcurrant doesn’t turn urinous or into “cat pee” on their skin. You’d be surprised how many people have that problem with the note, so I’d definitely counsel testing Playing with the Devil before you buy it. It’s not a cheap fragrance — and, in my opinion, Playing with the Devil is rather over-priced for what it is — but at least there is a more affordable refill option at $145 if you really love fruit cocktails. I don’t, so I shall play with the Devil elsewhere.