Shay & Blue London is a British brand that arrived in America last week. One of its fragrances, Salt Caramel, has received a lot of buzz, but I was eager to try the line as a whole. So, I ordered samples, and I’ll take a detour from my ongoing Italian series to talk today about Salt Caramel, along with Blood Oranges and Blacks Club Leather. Next time, I’ll focus on Oud Alif and Amber Rose.
Salt Caramel is an eau de parfum created by Julie Massé in conjunction with the brand’s founder, Dom De Vetta. It is a 2014 release which is described on Shay & Blue’s website as follows:
Salt Caramel, the pure temptation of the gourmand. Inspired by English chocolatier to the Queen Charbonnel et Walker’s Sea Salt Caramel Truffles, this is an irresistible fragrance composed of waves of caramel and bourbon vanilla cut through with sea salt and sandalwood. Tempting and indulgent.
Top Note – Liquid Caramel On The Nose, Expertly Offset With Tangy Sea Salt.
Heart Note – The Smoothness Of Tonka Bean Adding A Touch of Elegance.
Base Note – Refined Bourbon Vanilla For Depth In The Base With Sandalwood A Woodsy Counterpoint To The Sweetness.
Salt Caramel opens on my skin with extremely buttery caramel, bourbon vanilla, and a lovely sprinkling of salt. The sticky, buttered sweetness is drenched with resinous dark vanilla, a touch of smokiness, a dollop of citrus orange, and a toffee’d, nutty, praline undertone. Unfortunately, there is also a very sharp, clean, synthetic musk note as well.
Within minutes, Salt Caramel begins to change. The caramel loses half of its saltiness, and slowly turns into creme brulée drenched in burnt, pink sugar floss. It reminds me strongly of an airier, sheerer Vanitas from Profumum Roma, mixed with some of the blood-orange caramel from Dulcis in Fundo‘s opening. The difference here is that Shay & Blue’s singed, burnt caramel vanilla has about three times more clean musk than Vanitas, a hint of buttered salt-water taffy, and a touch of pralines. There is also an occasional wisp of popcorn that surprises me. It’s not the buttered cinema sort, but more like simple, hot popcorn.
Roughly 20 minutes in, Salt Caramel loses most of the remaining saltiness, and continues the transformation into a cleaner, lighter, wispier Vanitas. 90% of it is cloyingly sweet creme brulée with a burnt sugar crust, and not much else. There are a ghostly flickers of butter, popcorn, salt, and nuttied pralines, but they lurk far in the background, and only occasionally pop up to add a rare bit of dimension to this linear, simplistic fragrance. Unfortunately for me, the white musk is much more prominent, and quite sharp at times. In its final hours, Salt Caramel turns into a wisp of burnt, sugared vanilla with clean musk.
Salt Caramel completely underwhelmed me, and I think it is enormously over-hyped. Had the buttered saltiness been a substantial or constant presence, then the fragrance might might have felt more original or interesting, despite its linearity and simplicity. As it is, Salt Caramel is merely yet another excessively sugared, creme brulée vanilla fragrance in the vein of so many others like it. Like some of the Profumum gourmands, it is excessively (I’d say, painfully) sweet, and best-suited for hardcore gourmands or Pink Sugar fans. However, unlike such Profumums as Dulcis in Fundo, it doesn’t feel luxuriously thick, dense, expensive, or opulent.
Shay & Blue’s founder used to work at Jo Malone, and I think all the fragrances from his line bear the Jo Malone aesthetic. Salt Caramel is airy, wispy, sheer, gauzy, and linear with a bouquet that is simple, easy, uncomplicated, and, in my opinion, enormously uninteresting. In essence, a crowd-pleasing, commercial fragrance without much substance, depth, nuance, luxuriousness, or originality.
Like the Jo Malone fragrances, Salt Sugar has discreet sillage after its moderate opening, but it does have better longevity than fragrances from that other brand. The first time I tried it, I applied 2 big smears, roughly the equivalent of 2 small spritzes from a bottle, and Salt Caramel opened with 2 inches of sillage, turned into a skin scent on me after 2.25 hours, and lasted just over 7 hours. The second time I tested the fragrance, I had intended to apply more but accidentally ended up spilling all the rest of the vial on me, roughly 0.75 ml. That quantity is equal to roughly 4 very large sprays, perhaps 5, but it only gave me moderate projection of about 3-4 inches at first. Despite this increased amount, Salt Caramel became a skin scent on me after 3.5 hours, though it wasn’t hard to detect up close for a short while. All in all, it lasted 9.25 hours.
Salt Caramel has received a lot of positive, gushing press, and I think it will be an extremely popular fragrance, especially as it is very reasonably priced. On Fragrantica, it has good reviews, though I was interested to see some mixed numbers or comments about its longevity. Fans of hardcore gourmands who like discreet, soft scents will probably enjoy it quite a bit.
Blood Oranges is an eau de parfum that was also created by Julie Massé in conjunction with Dom De Vetta. Shay & Blue says it was released in 2012, and describes it as follows:
Blood Oranges, a richly refreshing fragrance with fresh bursts of blood orange, underpinned with an opulent and sensual blend of musk, woods and passionate leather. Different, stylish, ideal for men or women.
Top Note – Immediate Fresh Bursts of Blood Orange Segments And Juice.
Heart Note – At The Core Of This Fragrance, A Well-Balanced Note Of Hot Napa Leather, Sensual And Intense.
Base Note – A Few Hours Into The Dry-Down, Sultry And Passionate Musk, With Charred Woods And Amber.
The succinct note list on Fragrantica is:
Blood orange, leather, musk, woody notes, and amber.
Blood Oranges opens on my skin with a burst of beautifully juicy, tart, freshly squeezed tangerines, mixed with the brisk, zesty oils of its grated rind. It’s not like actual blood oranges on me, but I find the sweeter tanginess of mandarins to be just as appealing. I’m much less enthused, however, by the flicker of something that smells like ISO E Super which follows. Trailing behind it is a herbaceous, green, pine note.
In less than 10 minutes, Blood Oranges turns into an odd mix of aromatic pine needles with juicy mandarins. There is a definite peppered, aromachemical quality to the woods, but also something artificially fresh and clean. The end result reminds me strongly of the scent of those hanging car fresheners in the shape of pine trees. The generic white musk in the background doesn’t help in that regard.
By the start of the 2nd hour, Blood Oranges has turned into a wholly masculine, aromatic scent with a mainstream character centered on aromachemical pine forests with clean musk, and only a trace of orange citrus. There is no leather at all on my skin, now or ever. Instead, there is a definite streak of something similar to vetiver in the base. It’s another aromachemical in nature, and makes me think of Encre Noire, a suggestion which repeats itself in my mind as the drydown commences. When the 7th hour rolls around, Blood Oranges is a blurry, abstract, forest bouquet flecked by vetiver, abstract woodiness, and clean musk. The ISO E Super-like note is stronger, but now smells like rubbing alcohol on my skin. In its final moments, Blood Oranges is merely a wisp of aromatic, chemical, clean woodiness.
Blood Oranges had soft sillage on me and good longevity. Using 3 good smears, equal to about 2 regular sprays from an actual bottle, the perfume opened with 2-3 inches of sillage that began to drop after 30 minutes. Blood Oranges turned into a skin scent on me after 2.75 hours, and lasted just under 9 hours in total.
On Fragrantica, there are only three reviews for Blood Oranges thus far, but all are positive. The commentators uniformly remark on the beautiful orange opening, but not everyone found that it lasted throughout the life of scent. They also talk about how the fragrance turns aromatic, woodsy, and masculine in bent after a few hours. It was too masculine for the female commentator. Finally, all three reviewers seem to have experienced leather in the drydown.
As you might have gathered by now, I wasn’t enthused about Blood Oranges. My main problem is that I found it incredibly boring and flat. I’m sure it will be a popular fragrance with men due to its fresh, aromatic, woodsy nature, and its easy versatility. There isn’t much more to say than that.
BLACKS CLUB LEATHER:
Blacks Club Leather is a “Fragrance Concentrée” that was created by Julie Massé with Dom De Vetta. It is a 2014 release which seeks to bottle the smell of an artsy, Bohemian private club in London called Blacks of Soho. Actors Keira Knightley and Benedict Cumberbatch are reportedly members.
Blacks Club Leather is described on Shay & Blue’s website as follows:
the aroma of the London private member’s club, Blacks of Soho. A perfectly smooth and unisex leather fragrance. Round, full and rich, the scent of the fireplace mingled with leather, antique furniture wax, old books and a warming brandy.
Top Notes – A Waft of English Leather On The Nose, Reassuring And Comforting.
Heart Notes – Round And Warming Cognac, The Aroma Of A Fine VSOP Brandy.
Base Notes – Notes of Fire Wood And Mahogany Rubbed With Beeswax Anchor This Sophisticated Blend.
The succinct list of notes is therefore:
leather, cognac, mahogany, beeswax, woody notes, and incense.
Blacks Club Leather opens on my skin with aromachemical leather and bitter tobacco, infused with musty, damp parchment and woods, all atop a strange, boozy base. The latter is bitter and singed, like orange rinds infused with cognac that have been badly burnt. Curls of dusty incense and acrid cedar shavings tie the whole thing together. It isn’t an easy start for me, as Blacks Club Leather doesn’t evoke the rich, burnished, well-oiled, and luxuriously smooth leather of an armchair in a gentlemen’s club. Rather, it conjures up images of a really old, musty, fusty, leather-bound book. As a whole, it is an extremely stale, dry, and aromachemical mix that doesn’t mesh well with the burnt sweetness and acridly bitter tonalities.
Thankfully, things eventually improve, though it does take quite some time. The first intimation of hope occurs 30 minutes in, when a powdery benzoin warmth appears. It softens all the other notes, diffuses some of the musty, fusty, dusty qualities, and fuses everything together into a blurrier haze. Still, we’re not over the hump yet, because the first two hours of Blacks Club Leather is centered primarily on a very dry, cracked leather scent with bitter, burnt cognac-infused orange, followed by singed woods, hazy smoke, and bitter tobacco in a warm, lightly powdered cocoon.
At the end of the 2nd hour and the start of the 3rd, Blacks Club Leather shifts again. Soapy cleanness suddenly arrives out of nowhere, covering the leather with its suds. It is followed by a powdery, air freshener accord, similar to Lysol room spray but not so aromatic and much more neutral in nature. It’s disconcerting to smell air freshener and soapy leather, mixed with burnt sweetness, charred woods, bitter tobacco, and incense, but somehow, the combination isn’t quite as terrible as it sounds. Then again, perhaps my experiences with the Shay & Blue line have simply gotten to me by this point, and I’m undergoing Stockholm Syndrome.
Roughly 4.5 hours into its evolution, Blacks Club Leather is a blur of dry, smoky, soapy, powdery, clean leather with some burnt woods atop an increasingly creamy foundation. And this where things finally start to improve. It feels as though there is coumarin and Cashmeran woods in the base, and they slowly merge with the slightly dark, resinous benzoin to create a creamy softness. The soap suds, air freshener, and burnt orange accords weaken substantially, while the incense is much more muted. At the same time, the tobacco improves quite a bit. Somehow, it magically takes on an expresso nuance. Granted, it’s extremely faint and one has to really focus to detect it, but the dark bitterness has changed as a whole from an acrid tobacco absolute to a smoother note that is lightly blended with a drop of expresso.
Ultimately, though, the nicest part of the scent is the transformation of the leather into suede at the start of the 6th hour. Thanks to the buttery creaminess of Cashmeran, along with a possible dollop of coumarin, the leather loses its cracked, ancient, desiccated nature and turns plush, thick, and deep. It still has a very singed, burnt quality to it, but a lot of its acrid harshness has mellowed out. The tobacco and expresso disappear, while the woods turn abstract and muted. The strong streak of soapiness becomes a handful of bubbles at the edges, though the fragrance is undeniably both a little powdery and a little clean. For the most part, however, Blacks Club Leather is primarily just a simple bouquet of creamy, smoky suede with powdery cleanness and a wisp of abstract woodiness.
Blacks Club Leather remains largely unchanged from this point forth until its very end. The notes blur, and the fragrance turns abstract. In its dying moments, all that’s left is a simple wisp of something vaguely creamy with a touch of synthetic cleanness. All in all, Blacks Club Leather lasted just under 10.5 hours on me, with initially moderate sillage that dropped 3.5 hours into the perfume’s evolution to hover above the skin. However, the fragrance was still easy to detect up close whenever I brought my nose to my arm. It became much harder after the start of the 6th hour, unless I put my nose right on the skin.
On Fragrantica, Blacks Club Leather only has one review at this time, and some of it echoes my own experiences. “The-Real-Deal” writes:
A solid fragrance. […][¶] Opens up with a dry leather, cardboard, cedar wood and some lemon rind. [¶] Stays pretty consistent from there with the old, dusty books thing creeping in along with some cigar smoke in the background. [¶] Do not pick up animalic notes anywhere, nor any cognac.
This is a very dry and dusty leather. In contrast to Tuscan Leather by Tom Ford, it is not nearly as “new”-leather dominant, nor as sweet, without background saffron or fruit notes of any sort.
Couldn’t see a woman pulling this off at all. Not really a signature scent and would likely get a 50-50 like to “meh” ratio from friends. No wow factor but the quality is there. Well blended.
A Fragrantica editorial review by Sergey Borisov is much more detailed. He, too, experienced soapiness, “hygienic talc,” and the eventual transformation of the scent “to neutral woods and musks.” However, on his skin, the opening cognac note was sweet; the coffee was substantial and smoky; the synthetic was a “polite” safraleine that was “followed by a whitish coumarin;” and there was no acrid bitterness, darkness, or benzoin. He concludes that Blacks Club Leather:
is a modern, politically correct and fairly stable perfume in all its neutrality. That’s what leather perfumes have turned up in London. Lovers of old leather perfumes like Bandit Robert Piguet or Knize Ten will shake their head in disappointment, but for admirers of Cuiron pour Homme Helmut Lang or the refined Jo Malone perfumes this British powdery leather scent will become a masterpiece of sophistication and ease.
I agree that fans of Jo Malone will probably like Blacks Club Leather, and that it is a “modern, politically correct” (or polite) leather. As for his belief that admirers will find Blacks Club Leather to be a “masterpiece of sophistication,” I’ll take his word for it and will tactfully suppress my reaction to that description.
Clearly, I’m not in the target audience — for any of these scents. The only positive things I can say are: that the packaging looks very nice; the pricing is good; I like the fact that there is a 30 ml option; and the perfumes have better longevity on my skin than anything put out by Jo Malone. The rest comes down to personal taste. For me, Shay & Blue is a complete pass.
Disclosure: I purchases samples of Salt Caramel and Blacks Club Leather from Indigo Perfumery, but a vial of Blood Oranges was included free with my order. That did not impact this review. I do not do paid reviews, and my opinions are my own.