Mysticism, Oud, and Deja Vu: Caron’s Yatagan and Parfum Sacre

M7 from

M7 from

Oud sloshes about perfume retailers nowadays, you need waders or gumboots to keep the stuff from soaking your shoes. There is practically a flood warning out for it, and still the public seems to love the smell and to keep on buying.  Sometimes I wonder if this is not due to the fact that the Industry killed off one of their better dry fixatives with the oakmoss ban imposed by IFRA?  It could be, and after all, synthetic substitutes for oud have existed for some time, but the beginnings of oud and the Middle Eastern influence on mainstream perfume is a good deal older than you might expect.

Yves Saint Laurent’s M7, a synthetic oud fragrance for men, was introduced in 2002 and has remained a love it or loathe it experience ever since.  However M7 wasn’t the first mainstream release containing oud.  The first was probably Yatagan (1976) into whose formula a certain amount of oud wood was incorporated.  The oud is not in the notes,  neither in the H&R Guide of 1991, nor yet on  any of the websites, but there is a reference to this note of Yatagan’s in The Book of Perfume by Barrille and LaRoze  who claim that the perfumers of Caron, always interested in rituals (with their own Royal Bain de Caron allegedly part of Voodoo ceremonies) decided to include this nearly sacred material in their new masculine.*

This explains why I smell oud in my samples of Yatagan, neither of which can be less than thirty three years old.  What intrigues me is whether there was a substitute for oud in those days, or whether what I am smelling is the real thing?  Frankly I doubt that.  Real oud does smell pungent, but not quite so squid ink pungent as the substitutes, and I believe I pick up on an early one in Yatagan.  It’s a very strange perfume indeed and like M7 polarizing in the extreme.

Parfum sacre advertising from Caron

Parfum sacre advertising from Caron

“The truth, of course, was that this 1976 creation and its levantine fan club were thirty years ahead of their time.” That was Luca Turin’s summation in his second Guide, but in fact, the levantine fans may have been jonesing for something else included in that potent cocktail:agarwood in an affordable form, which also explains why Yatagan was popular in the Middle East for decades.

It’s maybe not so surprising that the easternization of western perfumes began rather a long time before either Serge Lutens or Amouage, or M7 for that matter.  I’ve written about the inspiration of Parfum Sacre for Feminite du Bois by Sheldrake, Bourdon and Lutens himself, the second and more influential of Serge Luten’s perfumes. ** The direction that perfume making took may have been almost an accidental one, but certainly the East was in the air. Guerlain’s monumental Samsara was released only a year before Parfum Sacre in 1989, and the ad copy sounded as if it had been lifted from the Sanskrit, or at any rate, that was the idea.

The famous emerald studded yatagan from Topkapi palace

The famous emerald studded yatagan from Topkapi palace

If you consider that 1978 was a watershed year for reducing the cost of an  oil formula for perfume ( the best example being  YSL’s Opium) then the move towards fixatives was a realistic one.  Strange exotic formulas could stay away from the familiar and pricey scents of flowers, introducing the customer to something new, like cedarwood (which is an affordable natural), or a new material like the damascenones of  Jean Coutourier’s Coriandre, which put a synthetic in a woody rose formula, even if later more natural  rose materials were used, the public was accustomed to the form, as in Frederic Malle’s Portrait of a Lady or Guerlain’s Songe d’un Bois d’Ete. It was essentially a well known, indeed venerable recipe. Some of the templates of fragrance, as early as the 70’s were eastern, not western.

The paradox here is that Yatagan, of all things, used one of the most expensive ingredients in the world, or a facsimile.  This went very much against custom, which usually decrees that masculines will be made of cheaper materials.  This may not have been the case with Yatagan, like the famous weapons in Topkapi, there may have been some real treasure in that trove…

*Page 113 of The Book of Perfume

** The first was Nombre Noir for Shiseido a rose aldehyde fragrance


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8 thoughts on “Mysticism, Oud, and Deja Vu: Caron’s Yatagan and Parfum Sacre

  1. WOW! I loved every word. You have inspired me to grab a sample of Yatagan. I once had a bottle but it rarely got worn so it went to someone who loved it.
    Portia xx

    1. Oh that Yatagan powerhouse! Glad you had a friend who loved it that much. It nearly knocked me off my feet but in my old samples I do smell oud.
      Nowadays, meaning any Yatagan since 2000 that I’ve come across, I smell…wait for it…celery. Or more exactly, celery salt, the sort you cook with. Now that’s a radical refo 🙂

  2. I tried Yatagan early in my perfume hobby and it scared the bejeezus out of me! I am not sure I would have much more luck with it now, hehe, but Parfum Sacre is another matter. Loved the imagery to conjure up the market being awash with oud.;)

    1. As you heard here, Yatagan scared me too, but it was a much bigger fume back in the day and is smaller and more tractable now.

      Sometimes wish I had my gumboots going past some perfume counters now, if the trend continues we’ll need waders like fly fishermen!

  3. Once in a while 🙂 I have the samples for all the perfumes you’ve mentioned in the post (including the original M7) so I should probably test them again – just out of curiosity (Caron isn’t my brand, at least so far, and agarwood and I have complicated relationships).

    1. M7 has been described as smelling like a car wreck, among other things, so I certainly hope you don’t have that kind of experience.

      Oud is an acquired taste that I haven’t entirely acquired-like you- I am not sure what my relationship with oud is-dysfuntional probably 😉 Oh wait, I did like Aftrelier’s Oud Luban

  4. Extracting fragrances from flowers & other exquisite raw materials to procure a particular fragrance like that is done since traditional times. The best perfumes and fragrances for men as well as women are extracted from a variety of plants/trees unlike the synthetic molecular ingredients which in my opinion isn’t as great or sounds like a real deal. However i believe synthetic ingredients does aids in getting many variations of fragrances at economical price points.

    1. The mixture of traditionally extracted ingredients and synthetics seem to be the most interesting-true.

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