Perfume Review – The Enchanted Forest by The Vagabond Prince & Bertrand Duchaufour

EF light

Source: J. Chanders at DeviantArt

Imagine a sea of pine and evergreens. There is a small hole in the thick blanket of trees through which the sun hits a golden light tunneling down to the dark, damp, forest floor. The ray of light hits turns some plants bright, incandescent green. Peeking out from behind the leaves are lush, ripe black currants. A few lie crushed — spilling out a crimson hue that contrasts brightly again the pine cones and the dark, grey-green mosses. All around, hidden outside the beacon of light, are the woods. Looming dark and majestic, they are silent, mysterious, unknown, and beckoning. That is The Enchanted Forest, Enchanted F bottlea newly released perfume for men and women created by Bertrand Duchaufour for the new niche perfume house, The Vagabond Prince.


Source: Fragrantica

Bertrand Duchaufour has been called “the new pope of niche fragrances.” The legendary nose behind many L’Artisan Parfumeur scents — including Timbuktu and Dzongha — he has also created perfumes for Penhaligon, Créations Aromatiques, Comme de Garçon Kyoto, Acqua di Parma, Eau d’Italie, and, now, The Different Company.


Source: Fragrantica

Recently, however, he collaborated with The Vagabond Prince (a new niche perfume house out of California and owned by the founders of Fragrantica) on their first perfume, The Enchanted Forrest.

His thoughts and intentions behind the scent are quite instructive. In an article he wrote for Fragrantica, he states:

Enchanted Forest is a unique fragrance for several reasons. It is the only perfume I know of that is built around blackcurrant as the sole raw material, to such an extent that one can say it is a CASSIS. Another reason why we can speak of its uniqueness is the topic, this pagan festival that is the Kupala—a Slavic tradition that continues, more festive than other things at present, as a kind of homage to nature and the mysteries of the forest.


Source: Fragrantica

At the same time, he wanted to evoke the dark, mysterious nature of a forest. So, he “chose the balsam fir, because it symbolizes the quintessential Russian forest,” seeking to link the “earthy notes” in the fragrance with “pine and the dried pine needles covering the floor of an endless pine and fir land.” (Id.)

But his goal was far more than just black currant, earth notes and slavic forests. Duchaufour explicitly sought to bring in a pagan element: joyful abandon, but with softness and femininity.

[N]either have I forgotten the joyful pagan side of the festival, by giving—mainly in the top notes—sparkling effects of citrus and alcohol (wine, coriander seed, pink pepper and just a trace of orange) that mingle with discrete floral notes but feminize the heart of the fragrance, such as hawthorn, rose, a touch of jasmine, carnation … just to offset everything else that could have made it a little too masculine. The whole composition oscillates between the dark masculine strength of the forest, the smooth, juicy and delicious blackcurrant and some soft flowers. The seduction which emanates from the bottom of the fragrance develops power with amber notes and very sophisticated musk.

Enchanted Forest is classified as a “woody aromatic” and its notes on the sample I received are as follows:

Top notes: pink pepper, aldehydes, sweet orange (traces), flower cassis, blackcurrant leaf, hawthorn, effects of rum and wine, rosemary, davana.
Heart notes: blackcurrant buds absolute (by LMR from Grasse), CO2 blackcurrant (by Floral Concept from Grasse), Russian coriander seed, honeysuckle, rose, carnation, vetiver
Base notes: opoponax resinoid, Siam benzoin, amber, oakmoss, fir balsam absolute, Patchouli Purecoeur®, castoreum absolute, cedar notes, vanilla, musk.

Source: Fragrantica.

Source: Fragrantica.

I was quite pleasantly shocked and pleased to receive a sample from the company, but I vowed I would always give you my blunt opinion regardless of how I obtained the perfume. And the bottom line is: I don’t think I’m the target audience for this very evocative, very well-made scent, but I’m sure it will be a hit.

prairie fruit

Source: Kayben Farms

The Enchanted Forest opens with a burst of cassis (which is the French name for black currants and what I’m used to using) and citrus. It’s the bright, zesty zing of a freshly grated lemon rind, and it’s a lovely pairing with the tart, sweet, fresh burst of cassis. Cassis doesn’t have the slightly over-ripe opulence of a purple (let alone a purple patchouli) fruit as used in perfume; it’s all tangy tartness with a touch of sweetness that is more aromatic and fragrant than actual, cloying sugariness. Cassis is often a note tasted in red wine, so it should be no surprise that the added “wine” notes simply underscore that aspect here. There are definite impressions of hot, mulled, spiced wine. In his Fragrantica article, Duchaufour attributed his “alcohol” smell to “wine, coriander seed, pink pepper and just a trace of orange.” I have to say, I don’t get any of those individual components, but I definitely get the sum total.

Seconds after opening, the heady scent of crushed pine needles and pine cones joins the party. Fir balsam absolute (natural pine fragrance in a concentrated form) is listed in the base notes of the fragrance, but it feels as though it starts at the top and runs all the way through the scent. Cassis and fir balsam are the heart and driving force behind The Enchanted Forest, and there is no way to ever forget that. In contrast, the oakmoss — a foundational element for chypre fragrances — stays at the base, as do some of the other notes like the cedar, the resins and the castoreum, to arise only later during the dry-down stage.

blackcurrant buds fruits with leaves

The black currant plant with buds, fruits and leaves. Photo Source: The Perfume Shrine

For the first 60 to 90 minutes, it’s predominantly cassis and fir that lead the show but, at the 30 minute mark, other guests start to appear. I smell the black currant leaf and some geranium, though they are fleeting. So, too, is the black currant bud absolute. The latter is an interesting ingredient and, given its greater role later on, I thought I would link to the explanation provided by the Perfume Shrine:

Black currant bud absolute is known as bourgeons de cassis in French …[and is different] from the synthetic “cassis” bases that can be cloying and which were so very popular in the 1980s and early 1990s perfumery, notably in Tiffany for Tiffany (by Jacques Polge) in 1987 and Poeme for Lancome (by Jacques Cavallier) in 1995. Compared to the artificial berry bases defined as “cassis,” the natural black currant bud absolute comes off as greener and lighter with a characteristic touch of cat. Specifically the ammoniac feel of a feline’s urinary tract, controversial though that may seem.

Black currant absolute comes from the bud… but also from the distilled leaves of the plant … and is extracted into a yellowish green to dark green paste that projects as a spicy-fruity-woody note retaining a fresh, yet tangy nuance, slightly phenolic.

I want to say up front that I do NOT smell ammoniac cat pee! Nor has anyone who has tried the scent thus far. However, in general, enough people seem to smell “cat piss” from black currant or black currant buds to warrant a surprising number of bewildered questions, articles or threads on the subject on the internet. Despite that, black currant buds are featured in a number of extremely popular, famous fragrances. A few examples are: Black Orchid by Tom Ford, Chamade and Champs Elysees by Guerlain, Gucci Rush II by Gucci, Escape by Clavin Klein, First by Van Cleef & Arpel, Beautiful by E.Lauder, In Love Again by YSL, Fan di Fendi by Fendi, and
Rock & Rose by Valentino. (Source: Fragrantica.)


Source: Fragrantica

An hour and half in, Enchanted Forest has become a very forest green scent. The cassis is still there but this is a dappled mix of greens, from the pine and evergreen, to the fresh, almost herbal leaf of the cassis plant, to more cedar-y pine cones. I don’t smell the rosemary, vetiver, honeysuckle or a few other of the notes listed, but I get a definite hint of some sweet, nutty, amber-y resin and smoke. However, the perfume is so well blended, I can’t tell which of the resins may be the cause. It could be the Siam resin, the opoponax (sweet myrrh) resin, the amber, or, even, the patchouli.

All of this brings me to the issue of linearity. Some perfumes are called “linear” because they are essentially one flat trajectory. Others, however, don’t really deserve that slightly disparaging term because they are so well-blended that they are a harmonious whole. The Perfume Shrine has a very thorough explanation of and defense for the “deceptive simplicity” of what some may dismiss as a “linear” scent. As she explains, some scents are really not akin to a flat-line on a medical device but, rather, have prisms and shifting weights amongst several key components.

A variation on the linear scent is the “prism”/prismatic fragrance, whereupon you smell a humongous consistent effect all right, but when you squint this or that way, throughout the long duration, you seem to pick up some random note coming to the fore or regressing, then repeating again and again; a sort of “lather, rinse, repeat” to infinity. A good example of this sort of meticulously engineered effect is Chanel’s Allure Eau de Toilette (and not the thicker and less nuanced Eau de Parfum) where the evolution of fragrance notes defies any classical pyramidal structure scheme. There are six facets shimmering and overlapping with no one note predominating.
In short, the engineering of a perfume is sometimes much more technically and intelligently labored than appears at first sniff. Linear scents are never “simple”, so to speak. Preferring a perfume that takes you into a wave of highs peaks & low valleys of differing “notes” is not in itself the mark of connoisseurship that it is touted to be.

I can’t decide if I think the Enchanted Forest is a “prismatic” scent or not. At times, especially during the first two hours, it seems flat-out linear. All cassis and fir trees. But at other times, especially at differing times from hours two to four, it definitely seems to be a shifting prism, highlighting some aspects, then others — sometimes in as little as a few minutes time!

Which brings me to an odd thing I noticed. Two hours in, the perfume’s notes changed depending on where I had put it on my arm and when I smelled it. You see, I often place perfumes that I’m testing in various places up my arm (or arms). Usually, the scent remains the same no matter where it’s placed — pulse points or not. That was not the case here. On one wrist, I smelled ambery resin: warm, nutty, sweet. ambery and with what seemed to be the opoponax resin (a relation to myrrh) leading the way. On the inner crook of my elbow on my other arm, I smelled all pine cones, green cassis leaf, smoky incense and a dash of oakmoss. On my other wrist and the outside of my hand, it was pine, cassis and what seemed to be a dash of the rose! And, every few moments, the scents seemed to shift or alter in small degree. One minute, my wrist smelled of amber resin, a few minutes later, it smelled of pine cones, then it shifted back moments later to honey and amber. I honestly can’t understand it. I put them all on at the same time!

I think the flickering nature of the scents underscores that this is an extremely well-blended prismatic perfume, and not a purely linear one. There really is deceptive simplicity; you merely have to wait for the opening notes to subside before you realise it.

The development of Enchanted Forest went roughly as follows: the opening of cassis and pine balsam lasted a bit over an hour; the middle notes really began at hour 1.5 and lasted for about another two hours; and about four hours from when I first dabbed on the perfume, the dry-down began. It’s a resin party! All amber, smoke, incense and honeyed sweetness. It’s warm and it’s cozy.

The whole progression of the scent is extremely evocative. It’s as though you were outside in a dark forest at night, sipping mulled wine by the light of the fire. You are surrounded by crushed pine needles and cones and there is a touch of damp greenness in the air. Then, you stomp out the fire and come in from the cold, inside to the cozy warmth of a cottage with trails of smoke and cedar still lingering on your clothes. You sip some vanilla tea with honey; the fire crackles; amber is in the air. The perfume truly does evoke such a feeling.

Unfortunately, lovely as parts of this fragrance are, I fear it’s not for me. I wanted to like this smell, but I would never wear it. And it truly is me, and not the perfume. I simply am not a fruit girl. Granted, it’s not a sugary, cloying fruit by any means! It’s tart and fresh, and there are a plethora of green notes — the zing of a citrus rind; the bright, effervescent green of leaves; the dark black of a forest floor littered with pine cones and crushed needles; and the grey-green of mossy oakmoss. But, to my surprise, it’s still not for me. Despite the warm honeyed amber from the resins (I love Siam resin!), despite my love for myrrh and musk, cassis is at the heart of this fragrance. Its opening is a bit overwhelming for one who isn’t into fruit and, on me, its threads linger faintly even in the dry-down. And the thing which initially drew me to ask for a sample — the resins, myrrh and patchouli — have too subtle a character for my tastes. I have also suddenly realised that not a huge devotee of pine and fir. At least, not enough to warrant a scent with so much of it.

I know I am in a definite minority, especially judging by the comments on Fragrantica. There, the perfume was greeted with great praise by all those who received a sample. (And most actually wanted the cassis top note to last much, much longer!) I should note, however, that the perfume is made by the founders of Fragrantica itself. The Vagabond Prince is their company. I am not implying that the comments are biased, but I thought it was something I should note. That said, there is no doubt that this scent will be a crowd-pleaser, and not solely because of how well it brings to mind Christmas. It’s a charming, evocative, well-blended perfume with obviously high-quality, rich ingredients, no cloyingly over-sweet fruit, and clearly made with love. But it seems that I prefer my cassis in champagne, not on my skin.

-Sillage: Very good for the first 2 hours, then there was less projection. It became close to the skin around 3.5 hours and very close to the skin from 4.5 hours onwards.
-Longevity: Very good. It lasted well over 6 hours and, as I say repeatedly, my skin consumes perfume. I think that this would last quite a while on others and initial reports on Fragrantica would seem to support that impression. However, the perfume is too new to have more detailed assessments of longevity. I will update this post when more information becomes available.
– Cost, Availability and Location: [UPDATE: This perfume has now been released in the US. You can find it on Min NewYork where it costs $180 for a 3.4 oz/100 ml bottle. ]
The perfume is now available in Paris. It’s release date was today, December 22, 2012. It costs 140 Euros for 100ml/3.4 oz. and is available at the luxe fragrance store, Jovoy Paris. The link to the Jovoy company website is: Full contact information is:
Parfums Rares Jovoy
4 Rue de Castiglione,
In the US, the fragrance will be available to buy online on The Vagabond Prince website, as well as on Lucky Scent and in its retail boutique called Scent Bar (in Beverly Hills, CA). I will update this post as I get further information.

CaFleureBon: “Frankincense and Myrrh in Perfumery: ‘Holy Smoke & Mighty Aphrodite’ + 12 Natural & Niche Perfume Prizes”

The brilliant experts at CaFleureBon have a fascinating article on frankincense and myrrh which I thought was definitely worth sharing. (Alas, I have no clue how to re-blog it via their format, so I hope this will suffice.) The article details the history and uses for both prized ingredients, before providing a drawing to win 12 perfumes ranging from Amouage to Parfum D’Empire Wazamba, L’Artisan‘s Big Bad Wolf and Olivier Durbano‘s Black Tourmaline. Go to the article at CaFleurBon to enter.

As a side note, I should confess that I am someone who suffers from anxiety, so I was blown away to learn the beneficial neurological, cerebral aspects of frankincense. Did you know that

Burning frankincense releases aromatic components that affect areas of the brain known to be involved in emotions, and nerve circuits affected by depression and anxiety drugs.   […]

[In addition] Frankincense and myrrh were commonly used throughout history as medicine to heal the body. Myrrh has anti-microbial effects and is used in a variety of infections, wounds and abrasions in addition to having preservative effects. It was part of the Elixir of Vitriol used along with aloes on old English sailing ships for seasickness. Both frankincense and myrrh contain substances to help with inflammation of the lungs to assist with chest infections. The Indian myrrh, known as guggulu, was used as a medicine to ease the symptoms of coughs and chest infections and as an aid in weight loss. It was also used to treat rotten teeth by the early Sumerians. Chinese healers incorporated it into remedies for bruises and infected sores, including those caused by leprosy. It was used in Kenya for dressing wounds and as a treatment for worms. English alchemists recommended frankincense to live a longer life.

Clearly, I need to buy some frankincense for reasons just beyond how fabulous it can be in some perfumes! (See my review of Chanel’s Coromandel for one iteration of it.)

I hope you find the article as interesting as I did. And if you win some of those amazing fragrances, let me know. 🙂

Review: By Kilian & Montale Oud perfumes

I’ve tried a number of unisex Oud fragrances from such niche perfume lines as Montale and By Kilian. (The latter was founded by the grandson of the famous Hennessy dynasty whose high-end cognac company is now part of the LVMH luxury conglomerate.) Oud scents are not cheap and the niche houses who put them out can charge a pretty penny. I could afford to try so many only thanks to the incredibly useful website, Surrender to Chance, which sells sample vials or larger-sized “decants” of almost every cologne or fragrance imaginable – from department stores lines to the niche houses to the rare, discontinued and vintage. (I cannot recommend them enough and the shipping is a fantastic price for a fast turnaround: $2.95 for First Class Shipping on any order within the U.S., and starting at $5.95 for international shipping.)

From By Kilian (hereinafter referred to just as Kilian), I tried four unisex fragrances from his Arabian Nights Collection: Amber OudRose OudIncense Oud and Pure OudIncense Oud opened with a sharp lime note which quickly receded to the background as the smoky, incense-y wood notes appeared. I liked this scent, though I swing back and forth as to whether I prefer the Rose Oud which opens with that sharp lime note before adding a rose element to the smokiness and woodiness. Honestly, I’ve concluded that that bitter, acrid, sharp, almost burning lime element has to be some element of the Oud distillation because I get it in a number of different Oud scents on the market. Not all, but enough such that I sometimes wonder if I’m imagining its pervasiveness, particularly as “sharp, acrid lime” is not something usually associated with Oud. This is obviously where personal chemistry comes into play.

Regardless, both Incense and Rose Oud settle into a comfortable, smoky woodiness that is quite different.  Neither has much sillage or longevity on me, but as I have repeatedly mentioned, few things do. With both Kilians, they fade into softness as quickly as 15 minutes later! However, they do remain, albeit close to the skin, with the Incense lasting for about 2 hours and the Rose Oud lasting a bit closer to 3 hours.

Kilian’s Amber Oud was a different experience because I smelled no oud whatsoever! No acrid, sour lime here but, rather, a lovely, very sweet opening note of amber and brown sugar. Almost a caramel feel, you might say, mixed with some 1970s-style patchouli and vanilla. The wood accord is simply nonexistent. So much so that I wondered if I was completely insane and decided to check the website, Basenotes. Apparently, I’m sane. There is no oud, according to most of the commentators, even though the official notes include it, along with bayleaf, cedarwood, amber and vanilla. As one person noted, you could get  the same result from Prada’s Amber series. I will say this, however, it lasted longer on me than the Rose or Incense versions.

Pure Oud was a completely unique experience out of the four Arabian Night fragrances that I tried. Basenotes states that it is composed of: “Oud, Saffron, Copahu balm, Amber, Gaiac wood, Cypriol, Cistus labdanum, Myrrh, Animalic notes.” On me, it (thankfully) lacked the strong opening lime note but descended immediately into a pure, almost synthetic perhaps, explosion of woodiness. It was different, there is no doubt, and quite fascinating. I can honestly say I’ve never smelled anything like it, perhaps as it is a cold, stony, wintery wood scent with a leather undertone. It strongly reminds me of the inside of a new, very expensive luxury car with ample (real) walnut wood and leather that is like butter. Except here, the leather isn’t hugely prominant in the face of that cold, steely wood. There is definitely an outdoorsy feel to this that is quite mentally and psychologically evocative. Living in warm Houston, I was strongly reminded of living in New York at Christmas time, wrapped up in a thick woolen coat and walking a street decorated with Christmas lights and covered with snow as tall steel or stone structures loomed up above. There is a slightly stony element and a coldness (in a good way) to the scent, along with the outdoorsy elements and leather. It made me wonder if this was what “cold,” “winter” or “stone” smelled like to the antihero, Grenouille, in the famous book Perfume.

Alas, even half a sample vial of this (in one go!) started to mellow on me within 15 minutes. It did not, however, fade completely. Instead, something different emerged. I actually could smell some Saffron (I cook a lot) and definitely some Myrrh. From that very cold, almost stone-like opening of wood with leather, now emerged lovely Myrrh, Saffron and Oud. My nose is not distinguished enough to know what Gaiac Wood, Cyprior or Cistus Labdanum smell like exactly but, whatever this is and whatever they do, the overall result is lovely. All in all, Pure Oud lasted perhaps 2 hours on me. I can’t say that it is something I would reach for daily but for those occasions when I want to feel different, unique and strangely enough, powerful, I would reach for this.

In contrast, Lime Aoud from Montale made me want a “Silkwood Shower.” (“Silkwood” is a fantastic film with Meryl Streep which led to the popular term referencing the scalding shower intended to rid one of radioactive contamination.) In fact, I did take my own version of Silkwood shower. Alas, there was no remedying how revolting this smelled on me. Oh, the irony that the woman on whom most things fade is subjected to a perfume she loathes and cannot escape. (As one of my best friends put it, it’s a situation worthy of the Twilight Zone.) I should begin by stating that the niche perfume house, Montale, is well-known (and much adored) for its various Aoud scents. They have many, with Dark Aoud being one that people frequently rave about as the ultimate in pure, really dark, super intense Aoud scents. (God, if it’s stronger than the Lime Aoud, please kill me before a touch of it gets on me.)

I ordered Lime Aoud because of the many raves for it on Fragrantica. Its notes intrigued me and certainly sounded good at the time: Aoud, Rose, Iris, Amber, Patchouli, Sandalwood, and Saffron. (See, Basenotes.) Some comments mention the extremely harsh opening of lime and Aoud. (It was the first time that lime was officially supposed to be part of an Aoud fragrance that I’d tested and, yet, I sometimes smell that note when it’s not supposed to be. Baffling.) Other commentators talk about a medicinal, bitter and metallic scent. I agree with both of those impressions. I’m not sure I agree with those who say that Lime Aoud turns into amber, sandalwood and roses.

The first time I put on Lime Aoud, I put on a small amount as I could tell from the moment I opened the vial that it was intense. I was blasted back by the lime and medicinal nature of it for hours. Sharp, acrid, medicinal, camphorous even, mixed in — totally incongruously, if I might add — with competing floral scents in an utterly revolting mix that just got stronger and stronger. After about 5 hours of barely suppressing nausea, I finally caved and took a long, scalding shower. Even after that, I could still smell faint traces of the worst part of it. And my clothes and hair positively reeked of it. It was so horrendous, I threw my clothes into the washer.

A few days later, I wondered if I’d imagined it and thought that I should give it another go. After all, some scents develop and change. Maybe I hadn’t given it enough of a chance. No. I lasted even less this time. I simply could not bear it. It was like someone had sprayed a floral scent in the air of a morgue, combining with its antiseptic, harshly metallic, cold, steel, and then added about a gallon of bitter lime on top of all that. My God, I’m cringing at the sheer memory.

Montale’s Aoud Blossom was slightly more successful  on me. Probably because it seems to have very little Aoud in it! According a commentator on Basenotes, it contains: “bergamot, Sicilian mandarin, ylang ylang, violet, jasmine sambac, tuberose, rose, Mysore sandalwood, Arabian oud.”  Many seem to think there is little to no real Aoud in it. I disagree. I can definitely smell it in the opening minutes, faint though it may be. Someone says they can smell the tuberose in it. I love tuberose and I get none of that on me. What I can smell is a definite floriental. Floral from the very dominant rose component, and oriental from the more spicy notes. I’m not sure I can really detect the mandarin, violet or jasmin but I can definitely smell the bergamot, ylang ylang and the sandalwood. However, everything is essentially overwhelmed by a very loud rose note that remains consistently dominant.

While Kilian and Serge Lutens fragrances don’t last long on me (at all!), Montale ones have decent to moderate sillage, and great longevity. (Too great, alas, in the case of the Lime Aoud). Its longevity is quite surprising to me, given how niche fragrances usually die a quick death on my skin. Aoud Blossom lasted about 5 hours on me, all in all. I will be frank, however, this is not a scent I would ever reach for again. And I am fighting off the urge to take another shower. It’s simply too pungent and in-your-face. Now, I *adore* strong scents, floral orientals and anything with a POW! And almost nothing gives me a bad physical reaction. But this… I can feel it at the back of my throat, it’s so overpowering that I feel a bit dizzy and I feel the onset of a migraine. It’s a deeply unhappy experience and one which has made me conclude that I must stay very far away from the House of Montale.

That said, there are enough variations of Aoud on the market that — whether your preference is for a sweeter version, a more woody one, a floral rose variation or hard core medicinal iteration — you can be sure to find one that appeals to you. If you’re willing to pay the prices for the uniqueness! This is not Coty or even your mother’s Estée Lauder. As for me, I will continue my exploration of Oud – probably with Tom Ford’s Oud Wood next as a friend of mine reports nothing medicinal, metallic, acrid or sharp about it. If I do try it out, I will be sure to report back.

Modern Trends in Perfume: Part II – Sweat, Genitalia, Dirty Sex & Decay

Earlier, in Part I, I covered the super-sweet and gourmand categories of perfumes that are currently popular on the market. Perhaps as a backlash to those scents, some designers have sought to go in a polar opposite direction. I’m not quite sure how to characterize the varying scents in this group or groups, so I’ll simply call them the Extreme Eccentrics.

The perfumes range from scents which seek to replicate post-coitus … er… muskiness, to armpit body odor to (allegedly) unwashed female genitalia or semen. Even decay and decomposition. No, I’m not joking. I understand everyone’s body chemistry differs, but not when a perfume is *intentionally* made to smell like that. I also understand the interest in the scent of sex and the impact of pheromones. But when a scent’s after-effects have been compared to “canned tuna and urine,” and when you specifically tell your perfumer/composer that you want the smell of female genitalia (washed or unwashed is unknown), then perhaps you’re taking your brand’s famous eccentricity to really extreme levels. Vivienne Westwood’s famous (infamous?) Boudoir is one of the perfumes in question here. According to some, she specifically wanted the perfume to have a note resembling that of a woman’s private parts. And, it seems the perfumer succeeded. In fact, a large number of people seem to adore the scent – though almost all its fans admit they wouldn’t dare wear it to work and that it needs to be (as the name suggests) restricted to the boudoir. A proper, in-depth description of Boudoir can be found here.

Alexander McQueen’s Kingdom (discontinued after his death) is slightly different. Like Boudoir, descriptions of the perfume seem to imply that it too falls under the “sweatiest of skanky, dirty sex” category. But there is another added element: body odor. Kingdom has cumin in it and cumin has a tendency, in strong doses, to smell like bad B.O.  (Personally, I think cumin smells like revoltingly dirty socks combined with bad armpit sweat. No, I’m not a fan.)

Now, I haven’t smelled either of these two in person (Kingdom is not easy to find nowadays), but I’ve read plenty on both and find the whole concept behind them fascinating. Both scents come from designers known for being cutting-edge, unconventional, eccentric, and avant-garde. Both are clearly representative of their designer’s aesthetic and ethos. But they are also both perfect examples of the rebellion against the more mainstream modern scents with their predominantly sweet characteristics.  They are also not alone. There are numerous perfumes and colognes out there that seek to emulate sex and post-sex muskiness in different degrees. It’s just that few have pushed it to the extremes of Boudoir and Kingdom.

Or have they? A 2008 article in the British paper, The Guardian, points out the intention of some perfumers, going all the way back to Jacques Guerlain in the early 20th century:

Jacques Guerlain – begetter of the scents Jicky, Shalimar and Mitsouko – observed that his perfumes should recall “the underside” of his mistress, while Tom Ford declared that he wanted his Black Orchid to smell “like a man’s crotch”. Such flights of fancy are known as “knicker scents” and conjure the vagina, semen, even the anus. […] Still more notoriously, Serge Lutens’ Ambre Sultan comprises a ripely resinous vegetal amber suggestive of female arousal.

Sperm-wise, we have Alan Cumming’s aptly named Cumming; Thierry Mugler’s Cologne with its carnal “S note”; and Sécrétions Magnifique by Etat Libre d’Orange, its packaging emblazoned with a spurting penis. The truly fixated should embrace Orgie, a graphic aroma created by Christoph Hornetz and Christophe Laudamiel as part of a 15-scent tribute to Süskind’s novel. An evocation of a copulating crowd, it positively spews semen. Those of a rear-ended persuasion, meanwhile, should consult Eau de Hermès, which revels in a certain sweat-spiced, masculine intimacy, while Roja Dove is proud that his “Roja Dove No 3” has a salty sensuality about its nether regions.

You might wonder how perfumers achieve such results. The Guardian article (linked to up above) explains:

Many of perfumery’s most venerable creations owe their sensuality to the use of animal ingredients with a certain “spray” element: civet, a faecal paste extracted from the anal glands of the civet cat; castoreum, a leathery emission from the genital scent sacs of the castor beaver; ambergris, a briny and vomitous by-product of the digestive system of sperm whales; and musk secreted from the sheath gland of the musk deer have all been popular perfume ingredients. Then things become still more complex: civet may be cut with hair or – brace yourself – infant excrement.

So, if you always wondered why that one perfume of yours smelled …. unpalatable…. to put it politely, baby poo and feline anal glands may be to blame. Or perhaps it’s something else, like the smell of rotting decay which the U.S. Department of Defense allegedly researched as a weapon of mass olfactory destruction. Okay, perhaps it didn’t go THAT far, but they certainly tried! It was part of another sub-set of scents in this Extreme Eccentrics group: perfumes that smelled of death and decomposition! From that same, incredibly fascinating article:

An American department of defence collaboration to devise non-toxic olfactory weaponry found the stench of decay to be more intolerable even than that of vomit or burned hair. A forerunner of such tactics, a putridly flatulent stink called Who Me?, was devised during the second world war to be used by the French Resistance (who else?) to humiliate fastidious Nazis. […] But the ultimate paean to decomposition is Laudamiel and Hornetz’s [2007 scent] Human Existence, a robustly repellent reek smacking of oral abscesses and vegetal decay. Apply to your wrist and you will desire only to hack it off.

Laudamiel was specifically influenced by Patrick Suskind’s fabulous, infamous, legendary and brilliant novel Perfume and its anti-hero, the scentless, Grenouille. It is a book I highly, HIGHLY recommend for all perfume addicts. Those who lack the time to read it may be interested to know that Grenouille’s ultimate and final perfume creation leads to an orgiastic explosion of excess and was made from the essence of 25 virgins. Laudamiel expressly sought to recreate the pivotal scenes from Perfume and the murderer’s scents, one by one, starting in 2000. (Without murdering anyone, I should hasten to add!!!) According to an informative N.Y. Times article on Laudamiel, he was assisted in his endeavour by a perfume scientist who “recruited two young female virgins and, with their parents’ permission, recorded their aroma using a polymer needle. Laudamiel found this scent on I.F.F.’s shelves, then added the scents Süskind describes as clinging to the virgin’s skin: apricot, nuts, sea breeze.” (See, “Smellbound.”) There has been no indication as to whether Laudamiel succeeded in his efforts to replicate Grenouille’s infamous and orgy-inducing fragrance….

Thankfully, most perfumers don’t go to such extremes. But niche perfume houses are increasingly pushing the envelope in order (in my opinion) to counter the avalanche of mass-market, generic Sugar Bomb and Gourmand perfumes on the market. There are no limits, no even the smell of human decay!

If all this has left you with the strong urge to take a shower or to cleanse yourself, then you’re in luck. Part III of this article will focus on the Clean/Fresh category of perfumes, along with the latest, popular trend of Aoud/Oud scents. I’ll add that link here when it is up. Stay tuned!