Cassis is a note that French perfumers are very partial to. The smell of the little black berries puzzles me a bit, though, since cassis is rare in US markets. We just don’t use it, and the reason is that various species of currants are “alternate hosts to the white pine blister rust disease” and as a result, there are restrictions on growing them laid down by Federal Quarantine Acts. This no doubt explains why it is that currants aren’t seen frequently at American farmer’s markets. These days you can grow currants in some Eastern states – New York is an example – if you plant rust resistant cultivars. The end result is, we don’t get many currants.
This is why cassis dominant perfumes seem odd at first to my American nose. I think I’m smelling blackberry with some sort of twist to it. Actually, I’m smelling cassis. In liquor it’s comprehensible, especially if you are in the habit of drinking a Kir in summer, which is generally a glass of white Bordeaux with a teaspoon or two of Crème de Cassis in it. The whole concoction turns a pretty shade of lavender and is very refreshing.
This was what flashed through my mind when sniffing The Enchanted Forest, a first perfume by The Vagabond Prince. Cassis, a whole mess of it, which was correct, because the beginning of this perfume is nothing but cassis: the berries, the leaves, even the blossoms, only secondarily do you catch the smell of fir trees. It’s supposed to mimic the smell of a Siberian forest. Never having been to Siberia, I wouldn’t know, but there is a lot that is distinctly forest-y about this scent, and it breaks ranks with a number of recent releases because the perfume is complex. The Enchanted Forest has a distinct beginning, and a middle, and an end, like any proper fairy tale.
The heart is very complicated indeed. Reminiscent of Baba Yaga’s Hut, much larger on the inside than it seems on the outside. The Enchanted Forest expands in this phase to a muffled, tapestried palace. There is an aromatic fire in the core of this perfume, scenting the air with pink berries and amber and carnations, and something furry scurrying over the floor in the form of castoreum.
Then the hut conspires to get you drunk on red wine, and as the evening progresses, rum, and by then, in all that flickering warmth, watching the shadows on the walls, you become aware that this is no place to linger in. Baba Yaga, it will be remembered, has iron teeth and is always hungry. So you escape, and find yourself in the forest again. Only now, it’s early morning and you smell the herbs, rosemary, and green grass under foot, and last of all the scent of honeysuckle.
It really is a fairytale of a fragrance, with a burning ominous midsection more like a Russian nightmare than a folktale, but well done, and a welcome change from perfumes thrown together far too quickly with not much thought behind them.
By comparison Antoine Maisondieu’s Feerie for Van Cleef & Arpels is a simple mixture of violets and cassis over a conventional heart of jasmine and rose, the dry down is iris and vetiver. Can’t say that I smell many of those ingredients; Feerie ends on something only moderately lasting, probably synthetic, and the time on my skin was barely an hour and a half. If these are fairies, they are definitely out of practice ones, and need to brush up their wand skills.
Finally, in the cassis category, is the soon-to-be-released Jeunesse. This is another one of Aurelien Guichard’s perfumes for Robert Piguet, but this time, the scent is extremely uncomplicated. It almost smells like a Jo Malone to me, although softer, and more natural than many Malones. It makes no bones about its mission, which is to smell like a premium jam on your skin and with its raspberry, cassis and floral notes over a musky finish, that’s what it does. It’s got a certain lack of pretension on its side here, so a nice choice for anyone with nostalgic memories of a jam pot, slice of toast, and sticky fingers on a summer morning.
Berry Gourmand, anyone?