Witches’ Berries, Fairies, and a Pot of Jam

Baba_YagaCassis 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?


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17 thoughts on “Witches’ Berries, Fairies, and a Pot of Jam

  1. I really love that Enchanted Forest thingy. (And am looking for rust-resistant blackcurrant bushes, btw.) It was not particularly sweet on me, and the cassis is pretty cat-pee/herbaceous. I do get a bit of benzoin in the drydown, if I remember correctly. Haven’t worn my decant in a few months; I think it’s definitely a cooler-weather fragrance for me.

    For what it’s worth, I will point out that while I’m not a big fan of gourmands, the very few I do fine with are some variation on an accord of berry-floral-vanilla. Such as Tauer Une Rose Vermeille, Hanae Mori (Butterfly), and that recently-discontinued cheap thrill, Bath and Body Works Dark Kiss.

    1. Very surprised by this Forest. It was a real PERFUME. And most of the time these days they’re not. Parts of perfumes yes, but not the whole enchilada. A top note, maybe if you are lucky a dry down, but no hearts. All these heartless little perfumes running around and suddenly you get this thing which has a big huge heart, a whole circulatory system right in the middle of the fragrance. Impressed I was.

      If you like all those berry gourmands, then you will also like RP’s Jeunesse. It is like Dangerous Liaisons, but less rose more berries and sort of charming. I liked it, and didn’t expect to. Feerie, was a meh.

      1. Hmm. Dangerous Liaisons was really horrible on me, just really It Should Not Smell Like This on me. Gah. However, I can’t remember exactly what it DID smell like, just that it was disgusting.

        1. Hasten to add that the material at the the end of the RP reminded me of LD, BUT the body of Jeunesse is pure black currant, and quite nice.

  2. Blacknall, I received a sample of Enchanted Forest too, a few months ago and it is very realistic to the smell of the plant, leaves and fruit, as you mention. Here in the UK black currants are very popular, but hard to find in shops. We pick them at our local fruit farm. There is a very popular squash/cordial drink here called Ribena, which we all grew up with drinking. If I recall correctly this perfume is a Duchaufour creation. He pops up all over the place, does our Bertrand!

    1. Black currants have to be processed fast or they go off. So says my plant encyclopaedia. Oh and Ribena was something my English step Gran remembered fondly. She was raised in India and had stories to tell of Indian servants straining the tea through socks, though according to them, not clean socks so it was quite alright.

      Mr Duchaufour does get about just like a bad rumour doesn’t he. Is there a brief he doesn’t do? Wait, why don’t we get him to do a brief of tea strained through dirty socks somewhere near New Delhi in 1910?

  3. I didn’t care for this perfume–it’s overdose of berries meeting up with masculine-leaning forest notes felt oddly jarring to me, but I do agree with you, Blacknall — The Enchanted Forest does unfold and seems like it was actually created with a lot of thought. I like the fact, too, that the perfume is true to the cultural heritage of the couple who had it created. Guess what I’m saying is that, even though it isn’t a perfume that works for me, I love how very personal it is. That’s a rare thing, these days.

    1. EF did smell kind of like a masculine to me, but it was the opening out of the mid section that intrigued me. EF was a true narrative perfume. I wonder if it does not read more like a bespoke perfume than one for the general public?

      In terms of wearability, I would go with the Robert Piguet Jeunesse on the principle that although I may appreciate a Delacroix, I’d just as soon have a Degas ballerina sketch on my wall.

  4. I like to eat currants, and I love me some kir, but can’t do blackcurrant on skin. It goes totally cat pee. That being said, I was surprised that I liked and could tolerate the opening of Enchanted Forest – juicy, green, and complex. It lasted longer than expected, so I even had some hopes for it, but then – yep, cat pee for days. No fir, smoke, amber, wine, none of the depths you found in it. Too bad.

    1. So the Enchanted Forest was basically The Litter Box on you. This is what happens when Pamplelune-which is such a fab perfume- hits my skin, a long puddle of kitty pee. Too bad.
      Mind you EF didn’t strike me as all that wearable, evocative yes. Wearable, well you know I went straight back to L’Aimant that day.

  5. I initially loved EF. Didn’t get much more than currants, some herbaceous notes, then musk, with currant throughout. It fascinated me. I wore it for days on a tropical vacation. Normally I loathe fruit, but this was weirdly interesting.

    THEN I read some reviews pointing out the litter box scent and now it is all I can think about when I try it. Guess I’m easily influenced. Or over-worried about smelling like cat pee. Ninfeo Mio’s boxwood note was a horrible fail for me at work, so I’m desperate not to repeat that. I set my sample aside, and will try it again someday at home 😀 Be well.

    1. Boxwood is notorious for producing cat pee like smells, as no doubt you know all too well by now. It is a real sorrow about Ninfeo Mio, it should have smelled wonderful.
      Here’s the thing though, perfumes are not sufficiently tested before they are released. This is a pet peeve of mine.

      1. That is a good point, and one that I never considered before. Do they ever actually test a fragrance on the man/woman-in-the-street (a LARGE sample) to see how it acts on many different skins? Because as much as perfumers like to talk about themselves as “artists”, what they are selling is a consumer product, one that they want to sell. If a perfume works on no one, how much demand does the perfumer think there will be for her/his services?

        1. I’ve heard that there are skin “models” on whom perfumes are tested, but don’t know if this practice is widespread anymore.

          Do wish that rather than focus grouping so many fragrances, they would indeed try them on lots of skins for allergic reactions and bad odors. You should road test things- fewer releases in consequence would be just fine.

  6. I liked EF when I tried it for the first time. Today (before reading your review) I tried it again and liked it even more. It’s such a rich and complex perfume! Now I need to try actually wearing it to see if it feels OK or if it gets too much (I do get all the stages – berries, the forest, amber, vanilla).

    1. Let me know how it wears on you, as I’m really curious. I sort of hope the people at The Enchanted Prince do alright with this perfume because they really thought it out and you could smell that. I bet the art direction on this one was comprehensive.
      I’m going to try to wear it myself for a day, but I’m waiting till it gets cool. We’re scheduled for something of a heat wave around here, and I think high temps would kill this one.

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