The wonders of patchouli and balsamic resins are the respective focus of two fragrances from DSH Perfumes. The first is Bodhi Sativa which presents patchouli in all its many facets, while the second is Vanille Botanique which actually focuses on Tolu and Peru balsams to create a dark, smoky, ambered fragrance that is infused with vanilla, then laced with civet for a slight touch of animalic muskiness.
The DSH website describes Bodhi Sativa as a “suave and elegant patchouli perfume with a sexy, bohemian twist: a note of cannabis is hidden in the mix.” The fragrance was Ms. Hurwitz’s entry in the “Summer of Patchouli Love 2011” / Peace, Love and Patchouli! project, and she wrote on her blog that she sought to make a summery, lighter patchouli, to the extent that was possible.
At the same time, however, Bodhi Sativa is a completely botanical fragrance, a fact which carries a particular significance. You might be wondering, what exactly is a botanical scent, and how does it differ from a regular “natural” fragrance? Well, in a nutshell, it really comes to essential oils in their most concentrated or absolute form. In other words, a 100% botanical fragrance is really like an attar in richness, though not all attars are heavy and dense in nature.
According to my email correspondence with Ms. Hurwitz, the notes in Bodhi Sativa are:
East Indian patchouli, brown oakmoss absolute, hemp, Indian davana, frankincense co2 extract, cassis bud absolute, champaca absolute, osmanthus absolute, beeswax absolute, dalmation sage, green mandarin, jasmine sambac absolute, lemon, grapefruit, centifolia rose absolute, galbanum, rosewood, australian sandalwood, buddhawood, Texas cedar, vanilla absolute, Tolu balsam, and benzoin.
Ms. Hurwitz added that a number of these elements form the “cannabis” accord mentioned on her website. In short, there is no actual marijuana in Bodhi Sativa
Bodhi Sativa opens on my skin with seemingly every possible facet of patchouli imaginable. It’s a rich, dense, chewy bouquet of booziness, greenness, earthiness with wet, sweet soil, dusted with spices, infused with smoke, and then placed on a bed of ambered sweetness. The intensity of the cognac-like booze fades within minutes, however, leaving a very earthy, sweet aroma. Tiny hints of vanilla simmer underneath while green touches similar to wet leaves are nestled all around. A very brown tonality flitters about, feeling almost like decayed moss and humus, with a touch of sweet peat. At the same time, there is a definite aroma of hemp that smells like sweet hay. The whole thing is flecked by smoke, honey, and green woods.
It’s an extremely complex layering of notes up close, reflecting every single possible nuance of the main ingredient. From afar, however, the main impression is merely of a kaleidoscopic patchouli dominated by earthiness. The latter becomes even more prominent after 5 minutes, particularly once all lingering traces of the cognac fade away. Taking its place is the first suggestion of woodiness, led by the cedar, then the rosewood. I don’t detect any floral notes at all.
Bodhi Sativa is extremely concentrated and rich in feel, but it is also surprisingly airy. The perfume feels soft, and the sillage matches. 3 massive, long smears gives me just 2 inches in initial projection, and it drops down to just above the skin after 10 minutes. However, it remains there for the next two hours, wafting its dense, chewy, gold-brown-green hues. Bodhi Sativa only turns into a skin scent on me after the start of the 3rd hour.
The perfume starts to shift and change 20 minutes into its development. At first, it is merely the lightest touch of mint that doesn’t alter Bodhi Sativa’s dominant focus on sweet earthiness. I do like the latter, but I wish there were an edge to the soft mushiness. It’s hard to explain, but Bodhi Sativa feels a little too ambered and earthy at this stage; I think it needs more grit, spice, and smoke. The latter exists, but it’s more akin to the merest suggestion in the background. I realise that sounds nitpicky, but, for a true “patch head,” the differences between various scents can be as important and significant as a Merlot versus an Old Vines Zinfandel. I prefer my patchoulis more like the latter, instead of the former with its mild sweetness.
At the 30 minute mark, Bodhi Sativa turns quite green. The camphor blooms, added a needed sharpness and edge to the sweet, earthy, ambered mushiness. Yet, Bodhi Sativa is not a true headshop scent. It’s more akin to a mix of Les Nereides Patchouli Antique mixed with Reminiscence’s Elixir de Patchouli, with a tiny side of Serge Lutens‘ Borneo 1834 (minus its strong chocolate note). Around the same time, the orange pokes up its head for the first time, but it disappears quickly, retreats to the sidelines, and only re-emerges on occasion later down the road. There are still no florals on my skin, but there is a growing whiff of the “cannabis” accord that adds a tobacco-like undercurrent to the increasingly green patchouli.
Bodhi Sativa is a largely linear scent that only changes by small degrees on my skin. As a whole, it is a blend of earthy, camphorous, sweet, and ambered patchouli with hints of cannabis, smoke, and tobacco. The main change over time is that the scent grows muskier, drier, and browner. The ambered sweetness slowly diffuses amidst the camphorous greenness, the impression of “cannabis”-like tobacco grows stronger, and the perfume takes on a slightly animalic edge. I’m assuming the latter stems from the cassis buds. The note is not feral, and it’s definitely not urinous; instead, it is more like an occasional glimmer of sharp muskiness.
Much more important than all of this is the tolu balsam in the base which fully infuses the patchouli after 4 hours. The resin is one of my favorites, but not here. There is something about the note on my skin that comes across as dirty, and it happened with Vanille Botanique as well. It’s hard to explain, but the tolu balsam has a very odd combination of brown muskiness, smokiness, staleness, and mustiness. It doesn’t feel like a well-rounded, warm, treacly resinousness, but a dank, leathery dirtiness with sharp smoke and stale, earthy brownness.
The note becomes a constant companion to the patchouli, almost seeming to dominate it at times, and transforms Bodhi Sativa into something that feels very much like an all-natural scent. The best way I can explain it is that Bodhi Sativa doesn’t feel like more than the more refined perfume perfumes in Ms. Hurwitz’s line. It’s hard to fault Bodhi Sativa for being exactly what it is, so I know it’s my personal issue, but I’m simply not keen on the end result. The mix of slightly camphorous patchouli with brown, musky dirtiness lasts for hours on my skin, thanks to the botanical concentration. All in all, Bodhi Sativa endured for just short of 13.5 hours, though the perfume was difficult to detect without hard sniffing right on the skin after the start of the 6th hour. It was around that same time that Bodhi Sativa also turned more sheer, feeling like an intimate coating of brownness.
Amongst the various reviews for Bodhi Sativa is one from the blog Perfume-Smelling’ Things. The site was one of the judges in a large perfume competition focused on all-natural patchouli fragrances from 13 different perfumers. I believe this is the “Summer of Love” patchouli project for which Bodhi Sativa was originally created. Donna ranked it in fourth place, writing:
It is a very serene, calming scent, minty “tea with milk” on me with a slightly sweetened gourmand aura to start, and later the tea subsides as the fragrance gets richer and warmer without becoming overly sweet or strong, and it’s as elegant as a polished stone. I enjoyed this fragrance very much and Dawn’s expert hand is apparent in the balanced execution. In fact it was this subtlety and smoothness that caused it to not quite make the cut since I felt that I wanted to choose a fragrance that had a strong patchouli character yet be something I could really like, and the project is all about patchouli. It’s a beautiful fragrance and I would definitely wear it, but for me it just did not have that standout patchouli zing I was looking for in the winning composition.
The Scent Hive blog was another one of the judges in the competition, and chose Bodhi Sativa as one of the three favorites out of the entries in a blind test. The post reads, in part:
man, if you love the kind vintage patchouli, Bodhi Sativa is speaking your language. For me it doesn’t conjure up smoke filled VW buses, but its leathery and slightly animalic aspect combined with a rich and minty aged patchouli certainly alludes to the herbal smoke. I love that Bodhi Sativa is an unabashedly patchouli fragrance. It begins and ends with the tenacious essence, but because it is harmonized with some fruity-floral nuances- I’m guessing osmanthus and rose otto- it’s never one-dimensional and wears nicely as a summer scent.
For March at The Perfume Posse, patchouli isn’t her favorite note, but she also enjoyed Bodhi Sativa, writing:
This one smells the most like “classical” perfumery to me, with a heavy overlay of patch. It’s definitely a patch-oriented fragrance without being at all hippie-ish. The woods and incense really shine through, and that rosey-vanilla makes it warm and rich rather than floral. While I wouldn’t exactly call it light, and I definitely wouldn’t have busted it out in our August heatwave, it’s a fragrance I’d turn to in the winter months when I’m craving an “old lady” scent (high praise from me) with both heat and an edge to it.
There is only one review for Bodhi Sativa on Fragrantica. There, “Leathermountain” writes:
Before looking at the notes, I smelled chocolate ink. Once I saw the notes, I could smell both of them quite potently. Later, it was back to chocolate ink. Very close to the skin, and delightful!
As noted above, I’m not as enthused as the other commentators. My reaction surprised me as I enjoyed the opening minutes of Bodhi Sativa, and quite expected to love the rest. Still, if you’re a hardcore patch head like me, you may want to check out Bodhi Sativa. It has an old-school style that you may enjoy.
Vanille Botanique is quite a different take on vanilla. In fact, you might argue that it’s really not a “vanilla” scent at all. Instead, the primary focus is on dark Tolu and Peru balsams which flow through the scent with the thickness and turgidness of the Amazon river. Vanilla brackets the river on either side, but the main focus is always on those very smoky, treacly, almost leathered resins. Ms. Hurwitz has said that she is not a huge fan of traditional vanilla fragrances and, here, she’s twisted the genre on its head to create a more grown-up interpretation of the note.
Vanille Botanique is also a 100% completely botanical fragrance which the DSH website describes as follows:
Vanille Botanique is a luscious, balsamic vanilla in the classical style. A soft jasmine heart and bergamot top note balance and round out the bouquet. Such deliciousness!
According to Ms. Hurwitz and Fragrantica, the notes in Vanille Botanique include:
Top: bergamot, rosewood, mandarin, lemon;
Heart: grandiforum jasmine, Turkish rose otto, beeswax absolute, butter co2 extract;
Base: Vanilla absolute, Tahitian vanilla, Siam benzoin, Tolu balsam, Peru balsam, tonka bean absolute, civet, and labdanum.
Vanille Botanique opens on my skin with lemon and bergamot in a flood of syrupy resins, infused with brown sugar, an almost boozy Bourbon-like vanilla, and a touch of regular, custardy vanilla. On the one hand, Vanille Botanique feels like caramelized creme brulée but, on the other, it is pure resin. The latter smells simultaneously like sweetened smoke, sticky treacle, leathered darkness, and a touch of cinnamon. Within minutes, the lemon grows stronger, pirouetting around the vanilla and transforming the caramel into lemon curd topped by a brown sugar crust that is singed and dark.
The vanilla seems to melt more and more into the river of treacly resins. The almost boozy undertone fades after 5 minutes, replaced by the subtle suggestion of something lightly floral. It’s all very rich, dense, and sweet. Yes, it’s even syrupy, but it’s resin syrup — dominated by almost leathery, smoky, darkness – not vanilla syrup. The lemon curd is a lovely accompaniment, and is joined by bergamot to add a touch of fragrant freshness that reminds me of the Earl Grey aroma in another DSH perfume. Soft, sweet, aromatic rosewood lurks about in the distant background as well.
Vanille Botanique is very dense in feel and extremely strong at first, but it’s quite light in weight. For all that the visuals are opaque, the perfume itself is not. Its sillage is soft on my skin, as are all the DSH fragrances. Vanille Botanique wafts 1-2 inches at first, drops at the end of the first hour to hover an inch above the skin, then turns into a skin scent at the start of the 3rd hour.
The perfume starts to turn smokier and darker 30 minutes into its development. There is a leathered subset to the resins in the same way that there is in original, vintage Shalimar, which has one or both of the balsams in question. Vanilla feels less and less of a focal point, though you can see it peeking out from behind the veil. It’s a dry vanilla, like the kind in Mona di Orio‘s Vanille, but without the latter’s heavy butteriness. After an hour, the lemon curd fades away, Vanille Botanique turns softer, and a touch of tonka appears, reflecting its cinnamon and slightly powdered facets. It’s a mere blip on my skin, however, and doesn’t last long. The jasmine never appears at all.
Vanille Botanique shifts slightly at the start of the 4th hour. The perfume turns drier, and even darker. There is a definite leathery undertone to Vanille Botanique now, but it also has a dirty quality that I don’t particularly enjoy. One reason is the civet which becomes quite noticeable at this point. The other is the undertone to the tolu balsam that I alluded to earlier in my discussion of Bodhi Sativa. The two together combine into an aroma that feels almost like raw tobacco juice, infused with civet and with that dirty, musky tolu. It’s far from my personal cup of tea, which is unfortunate as that dark, earthy, brown dirtiness becomes a fundamental aspect of the dominant balsams on my skin. Custardy vanilla? No longer. No real vanilla of any kind on my skin, actually.
Vanille Botanique soon turns into a blur of dark sweetness dominated by the tolu balsam’s leathered, musky, rather dirty facets. At the start of the 6th hour, the perfume feels like it’s almost all gone from my skin except for a pungent, resinous, half-sweetened smokiness, but Vanille Botanique clings on tenacious. For hours. And hours. Finally, 12.5 hours from the start, the fragrance dies away, smelling resinous to the very end.
My experience is quite different than that discussed in The Perfume Magazine‘s feature on Vanille Botanique. The very detailed review reads, in part:
Although there is citrus in the top notes, Vanille Botanique is introduced as a basalmic vanilla fragrance from the get-go. Red mandarin is the most apparent of the citrus essences, but not in a zesty or sparkling manner. Rather, it lends a light dimension to Vanille Botanique, alluding to the fact that this fragrance never becomes weighty or thick. Having said that, Vanille Botanique is most substantial in the opening which is redolent of an aged rum that has been distilled in wooden casks.
Vanilla courses through the boozy liquid but like Casmir and Spiritueuse Double Vanille it’s seamlessly blended so while there are caramel tones and hints of brown sugar, it is absent of a foody quality or saccharine sweetness. A peppery, nutmeg-like spiciness also helps temper the vanilla and move forward with the buoyant theme.
While it’s important to state what Vanille Botanique is, it might be even more important to mention what it is not. There’s no smoke, or incense, and yes there are woods and resins in the notes, but it is not a woody fragrance per se. By contrast, it is evocative of balsams that have infused the perfume as a whole[.]
The lovely Victoria at EauMG loves Vanille Botanique, calling it one of the most indulgent, decadent fragrances she’s experienced in the genre. Her review read, in part:
DSH Perfumes Vanille Botanique is the most decadent vanilla themed perfume that has ever touched my skin. It’s so rich and luxurious that I almost feel guilty wearing it because it’s one of the most self-indulgent, lavish perfumes ever created. And that’s why I love it.
Vanille Botanique smells so good the opening is a rich vanilla complimented by old-fashioned mosses and a hint of retro florals. But, trust me, this is all about the vanilla. The vanilla in this is sweet, balsamic, rich and palatial. There is a faint hint of citrus. The citrus isn’t fresh or glimmering. It’s more like an essential oil smothered by the balsamic richness of the vanilla bean. There is more to this fragrance than just vanilla, I can pick up on that. BUT I mainly get a rich, balsamic vanilla that is thick like syrup but not overly sweet. Actually, it reminds me of tolu balsam. So there is a hint of “amber” and benzoin in this balsamic glazed tobacco-like vanilla. It’s a linear scent like Guerlain Tonka Impériale. I don’t care if it’s linear because I smell good for 15+ hours wearing this lavish perfume. […][¶]
Give Vanille Botanique a try if you like rich, dense vanilla fragrances that do not smell like baked goods or synthetic. Give it a try if you like rich gourmands like Tom Ford Tobacco Vanille, L’Artisan Parfumeur Vanille Absolument, Guerlain Spiritueuse Double Vanille and/or other gourmands by DSH Perfumes. This scent is a unisex vanilla like the ones I listed above. This is not a “light” vanilla, it’s super dense so keep that in mind. This isn’t sheer; it’s syrupy. [Emphasis to names added by me.]
On Fragrantica, there are two reviews. The first talks about the labdanum aspect of Vanille Botanique, as well as the civet. Like Victoria at EauMG, “Sherapop” also finds a stylistic resemblance to L’Artisan‘s Vanille Absoluement, writing, in part:
DSH Vanille Botanique is a vanilla perfume for grown-ups. No sugar festival here whatsoever. Instead the scent is rather woody and oriental and barely sweet at all.
The labdanum is quite marked and there is some darkness imparted it appears by … civet! Well, this does not smell very animalic to me (maybe just a touch…), but it does smell very well blended and unisex. I find this just as well-blended as my favorite vanilla perfume, L’Artisan Parfumeur Vanille Absolument. This creation by DSH is akin to its savory analogue. [¶] Everything works together harmoniously in this composition, which I find to be a gorgeous wintertime perfume. [Emphasis to name added by me.]
The second review, however, is significant because it comes from someone who didn’t think the perfume lived up to the “vanilla” in its name and was a little disappointed:
The name…well a bit misleading. I would put vanilla way down towards the bottom of the list. This is all about the benzoin, labdanum & honey & a really unusual scent to me (maybe the civet). Oh, and I smell the rosewood, which I like. This is warm and honeyed but I’m not really sensing any florals. This is a very interesting perfume and I like that it is a bit different but unfortunately not what I was looking for.
I think her comment is extremely important because it highlights that Vanille Botanique is far from the conventional sort of vanilla fragrance. I disagree with a lot of the talk of vanilla in the other reviews because I think very dark balsams are the focal point of the scent. Ms. Hurwitz said as much to CaFleureBon, writing “I just love a good balsamic vanilla that is not really sweet but very, very rich and smooth.” I would add “very dark,” “musky,” and “smoky” to that list of adjectives as well.
In short, if you’re expecting a traditional, hyper-sweet, vanilla-centric scent, Vanille Botanique may disappoint you. This is not like some Victoria Secret or Mugler-style vanilla. It is a very dark, resinous interpretation of the genre that may be best suited to those who love amber and Tolu balsam in all its facets, including dark leatheriness and a treacly smokiness. Ideally, you should also enjoy a touch of muskiness as well. If drier vanillas on a deep, ambered base are your cup of tea, give Vanille Botanique a sniff.
Disclosure: Perfume samples were courtesy of DSH Perfumes. That did not impact this review, I do not do paid reviews, and my opinions are my own.