Expresso, licorice, amber, cinnamon, leathered tobacco, and smoky resins lie at the respective hearts of two sibling fragrances from DSH Perfumes. Cafe Noir was inspired by the jazz cafés of Paris at night, while the thought behind Parfum de Luxe stems out of the Art Deco movement of the 1920s and the French Riviera. One fragrance begins as a golden, buttered gourmand before shedding its skin to turn resinous, dark, and chewy. The other has dark expresso and licorice on my skin, with a surprising touch of decayed florals lurking at its edges that is replaced by leathery tobacco. Both, however, have their darkness end on a soft finish of vanilla.
Cafe Noir is meant to evoke Paris jazz cafés at night. It is a 96% botanical eau de parfum that the DSH website describes as follows:
Cafe Noir is an oriental fragrance that harmonizes spice, floral, resin and wood notes with the beloved aroma of black coffee.
It is a Paris night. Dark and sophisticated, it evokes late concerts in smoke filled rooms…sipping coffee and listening to jazz. Captivating and sensual, Cafe Noir fuses classical sensibilities with the flair of the artist.
The notes, as compiled from Fragrantica and the tags on DSH Perfume, are:
Top notes: bergamot, black pepper, cinnamon bark, and pimento berry;
Middle notes: Siam Benzoin, Bulgarian rose otto, grandiflora jasmine, and labdanum.
Base notes: coffee absolute, tolu balsam, and vanilla.
Cafe Noir opens on my skin with a delicious explosion of goldenness that is the furthest thing in feel from any dark, sultry café. Actually, it evokes Cinnabons, more than the world of Ella Fitzgerald in smoke-filled rooms at midnight. The opening bouquet is of boozy cinnamon with rich Bourbon vanilla, a touch of fiery chili, and the tiniest whisper of coffee. Cafe Noir is, first and foremost in these opening minutes, centered on a very powerful, buttered cinnamon note that really evokes a pastry dusted with spice, heavily buttered, and with a warm, fresh-baked bread aroma.
It’s a visual of gold and red in a scent that feels very comforting. Yet, for all its gourmand tendencies, nothing about Cafe Noir is sweet or cloying on my skin. The expected note is extremely muted, feeling more like a suggestion of coffee on the side. Oddly enough, there is a distinct Earl Grey tea impression that seems much more profound. The unexpected tonality undoubtedly stems from the very aromatic bergamot. I love the overall warmth and sweetness of Cafe Noir, the feeling of tea time centered around cinnamon buns.
The boozy cognac fades away within minutes, and its place is taken by other elements. There is a waxy, honeyed note from the labdanum. Vanilla swirls around now as well, but the central focus of Cafe Noir after 10 minutes continues to be the blend of hot, buttered cinnamon rolls with Earl Grey tea. The whole thing gently wafts 1-2 inches above my skin in a deep, concentrated cloud that initially feels very airy.
The coffee soon vanishes entirely, and its place is taken by the occasional suggestion of abstract florals. Sometimes, I think I can smell ripe jasmine; once, I thought I detected rose; another time, there was also a fruity nuance that popped up. Yet, all of it is hard to pinpoint and lurks in the far corners of the background. For the most part, there is merely a sense of something vaguely “floral” that lurks about, but it is too nebulous and too well-blended into the other notes to be a significant part of the fragrance. The same story applies to the pimento chili pepper which appears once in a blue moon in a visible manner, but is generally subsumed into the overall bouquet.
Much more noticeable are the growing presence of dark accords. There is honey that feels syrupy and, often, quite burnt. There are also the labdanum and balsamic resins. The tolu in particular feels smoky, chewy, and almost masculine. By the end of the first hour, the three notes combine to wipe out the golden, gourmand, cinnamon haze of Cafe Noir, blanketing it with darkness that is a little bit smoked and singed. The sticky, burnt honey comes fully to the foreground, followed by the labdanum. It continues to emit the tiniest touch of honeyed beeswax, but its primary aroma is of a very dark, slightly masculine, tough amber. It feels dusted by pepper and a suggestion of pimento. Following the labdanum is the smoky tolu as the third main player on Cafe Noir’s stage.
Cafe Noir’s second phase is fundamentally different than its opening. Cinnamon continues to blanket everything, but this is a dry note now that feels almost woody at times. All suggestions of hot, flaky, buttered pastries have disappeared, while the Earl Grey tea is a mere blip on the horizon. At the end of the 2nd hour, Cafe Noir is a very dark, resinous amber with almost a smoky nuance. It is dusted by spices, then lightly flecked by vanilla and by the tiniest, muted touch of jammy roses. It is a skin scent by this point, but deep, concentrated, and very strong when sniffed up close.
Cafe Noir doesn’t change much for the rest of its life. The core of darkness merely reflects different secondary notes on the periphery, like occasional lingering touches of beeswax, spiciness, vanilla, or cinnamon. For the most part, it simply turns into a blur of smoky, resinoid darkness with an undertone that almost verges on tobacco’d leather at times. Cafe Noir continues to have a very concentrated, dense feel up close, but it’s also an increasingly sheer in weight. With every passing hour, the tolu balsam takes over more and more on my skin, adding to that leathery impression in the haze of smoky darkness. I’m really surprised by the complete 180 turn from Cafe Noir’s opening stage.
In its final moments, Cafe Noir is merely a wisp of something resinous and dark, with the tiniest suggestion of sweet, almost tonka-like vanilla mixed in. All in all, the scent lasted over 8.5 hours on my skin. The sillage was soft but generally decent for the first few hours, helped by the very dense, chewy feel to the notes. Even when Cafe Noir turned into a skin scent, it still was easy to detect up close until the start of the 6th hour.
The lovely Victoria at EauMG had a very different experience with Cafe Noir, but she loves it, calling it a “beatnik” chypre that conveys exactly the jazz café atmosphere that it intended. Her review reads, in part, as follows:
Cafe Noir is a moody, rich fragrance. I love it. I call it “beatnik in a bottle”. It’s smart and sophisticated and a bit counter-culture (if a perfume can be described as such). It reminds me of a classic French perfume created for the kind of gal that spends late nights/early mornings reading Lawrence Ferlinghetti by the fireplace, sipping on midnight black coffee. […][¶] This scent reminds me of “beat” poetry.
My first impression of this fragrance creates a bit of confusion in my mind. I know that I like it but I find it very odd. It hits as if it is a spicy, mossy, dirty, chypre. It smells a bit wild and untamed and actually hot. It reminds me of all of those classic Guerlains like Mitsouko but Cafe Noir is much dirtier and grittier and with a kick of spice. It reminds me of moss and Atomic Fire Balls. You just know like beat poetry, that this is a fragrance with so much to say. Once my mind finally gets that this is a dirty, spicy chypre, I get an unexpected “shot” of bitter coffee beans. To add to even more complexity, I get lovely “classic” perfumey. I get rich, thick Parisian florals of rose and jasmine. But, it isn’t classic because of the bitter coffee. The dry down is moody and fairly simple. It has smoky incense like copal rich sweetness with grounding notes of vanilla, labdanum, and balsam. It is like being in a room where incense was once burning. It is slightly smoky but mostly you get the sweetness of the smoke floating through the air. I can not imagine my perfume collection without Cafe Noir in it. This one is very special.
For This Blog Really Stinks, Cafe Noir was a romantic, sexy, cozy fragrance that was also about more than mere coffee:
Sure, there’s a beautiful coffee note present, but that’s not all! Let’s talk about the coffee, though, for a minute. Where New Haarlem (Bond No.9) was a bracing double-shot in a styrofoam cup, Cafe Noir is richer, softer coffee in a cup and saucer. The barista sprinkled some cinnamon in it, a spicy-sweet twist. […][¶]
Once the nose acclimates to the steaming coffee and delicate spice, it’s free to venture further. With the cinnamon coffee always present, a sexy floral blend wafts in. Jasmine and rose dance softly but distinctly, reminding me a bit of twin snakes of smoke and steam spiraling upwards from lit cigarettes and hot mugs.
Labdanum, a note I’m learning more about (and love), is probably what’s responsible for the somewhat creamy, ambery facet to this perfume. It’s the slightest bit like warm skin kissed by smoke.
On Fragrantica, however, a number of the commentators found Cafe Noir to be all about the cinnamon. One person detected no coffee at all, and hardly anyone talks about floral notes. Some of the range of opinions:
- Straight up, I get an unexpected blast of alcohol, specifically brandy, followed by the strong cinnamon that puts me immediately into a Christmas state of mind. Soon this settles and then the other notes mingle to create a comfort, feel-good scent. I don’t get strong coffee here, but it IS gourmand. It is more coffee bun dusted with cinnamon[….] In a way, this is also reminiscent of a BPAL in that the scent is so evocative and strong, you could be in the moment in that coffee shop…. with that bun.
Well the way I would rate the notes would be: 1. Cinnamon 2. Pepper/Pimento 3. Benzoin 4. Coffee 5. Vanilla 6. Tolu [¶] This to me is all about a nice hot latte with a heavy sprinkling of cinnamon on top of the foam while you sit quietly eating a warm cinnamon bun. This is gorgeous, warm and creamy but really for me the cinnamon is what takes center stage. A beautiful addition for fall and winter. This is just the perfect amount of spice without becoming a total spice bomb. I agree with the others, I don’t smell the flowers but I am sure they are helping the spices to stay grounded and not get too carried away!!! [¶] For a real caffeine kick I will stick with Ava Luxe’s Cafe Noir.
- As a rule I have liked all the DSH perfumes I have sampled, however this one is very disappointing. I don’t smell any coffee at all, just cinnamon and amber. It’s also extremely sweet, almost sickeningly so. In its favour it lasts a few hours on my skin.
- Cafe Noir is exactly that–a deeply aromatic, rich elixir that gives you a caffeine kick merely by absorbing it through your skin. [¶] The opening is piquant and dark and takes some time to diffuse, which is no surprise considering the viscosity if this natural blend. [¶] The flowers are not overt but deliver a roundness and subtle sweetness in combination with the vanilla. [¶] Labdanum, benzoin and tolu balsam give an exotic, ambery richness and a long lasting layered complexity. [¶] Incredibly indulgent and a well composed perfume which I think is suitable for both men and women. It makes me long for a cup of Turkish coffee with a piece of lokum on the side. I also find this a great natural alternative to Opium.
I find zero resemblance to my beloved Opium, but I do agree that Cafe Noir is a very unisex fragrance that both men and women would enjoy. I think some appreciation for cinnamon is in order, and, ideally, you wouldn’t have great expectations of a very coffee-dominated scent (or a floral one). If you are looking for a very resinous, balsam-heavy amber infused with spices, some smokiness, and varying levels of sweetness, Cafe Noir may be right up your alley.
PARFUM DE LUXE:
Parfum de Luxe was inspired by the Art Deco movement of the 1920s and ’30s, but it feels very much like Cafe Noir’s sibling. It too is an eau de parfum that is dark, resinous, smoky, and faintly leathered. To my surprise, it, too, manifested a coffee note on my skin. In fact, it was a substantially stronger one than the tiny blip in Cafe Noir, and was centered around bitter expresso.
Parfum de Luxe is a 94.5% botanical fragrance which the DSH website describes as follows:
A vintage style chypre-tabac perfume with subtle surprise praline and leather nuances in the drydown. It is eclectic and yet fabulously suave.
On the Riviera, I was overwhelmed by the charm and grace of my surroundings. The Perfume in the air was magnificent. Inspired by the Art Deco movement of the 1920´s and ´30´s, Parfum de Luxe is rich, pure and confident.
The notes, as compiled from a comment on Fragrantica and the general tags on DSH Perfume, include:
Top: bergamot, clary sage, neroli, petit grain and violet.
Heart: Bulgarian rose absolute, Centifolia rose, Chinese geranium, honey, iris, tuberose and ylang-ylang.
Base: amber, Siam benzoin, brown oakmoss, labdanum, patchouli, sandalwood, tobacco absolute, musk, and vanilla.
Parfum de Luxe opens on my skin with crisp bergamot, herbal clary sage, leathered tobacco, and geranium, all on an earthy, musky base. The latter is infused with patchouli, dusty spices, what smells like cloves, a hint of oakmoss, and the tiniest touch of bitter, woody petitgrain. Then, for reasons that I absolutely cannot explain, something in Parfum de Luxe starts to strongly radiate bitter expresso on my skin, as well as black licorice and anise. I’m guessing that it must be some aspect of the tobacco, perhaps impacted by one of the other notes, but I’ve never had tobacco absolute turn to either expresso or licorice on my skin. Regardless, I’m rather keen on it.
The licorice grows more prominent with every passing minute, evoking hard, chewy, black Twizzler sticks. The bergamot and oakmoss quickly fade, leaving a scent that is primarily centered on dark accords. After 10 minutes, a whisper of tuberose creeps in, though it too is infused with the expresso, licorice and tobacco. The whole thing is an extremely strong, rich, dense scent that initially hovers an inch above the skin with 3 large smears.
There are very few florals at first, apart from the bitter geranium and that whisper of tuberose. The latter frequently disappears, only to reappear ten minutes later, in a ghostly dance that goes back and forth. Once, I thought there was the faint suggestion of iris, but it too darts away every time I try to pinpoint it.
Parfum de Luxe slowly starts to shift. There is a honeyed nuance which appears, mixing with the licorice to create the impression of burnt caramel. Then, to my surprise, a very ripe, brown floral element arrives. It smells primarily like a decayed gardenia, similar to that in Serge Lutens‘ Une Voix Noire, and is mixed with the tiniest, most minuscule touch of an over-ripe ylang-ylang. Both flowers are blanketed by the licorice-like accord and the sticky, toffee’d, burnt honey, then lightly flecked by an earthy muskiness. Bitter petitgrain and geranium dart about throughout the top notes, but what fascinates me is the mushroom aroma in the background.
It is something I’ve encountered with gardenia, but never with tuberose, no matter how ripe or indolic. Then again, most “gardenia” notes are derived from the combination of other florals, like tuberose, so perhaps that is the explanation. Either way, the mushroomy earthiness is extremely muted and even more brief, lasting only about 10 minutes before it fades away. However, it leaves in its wake a little bit of funk to Parfum de Luxe’s base, which joins the leathered edge from the “licorice” that I cannot explain. None of it is what I was expecting from the notes, but it all works very well as a licorice-expresso fragrance with a touch of dying gardenia. I like the richness and depth to the scent, as it feels quite hefty despite the airiness of the bouquet.
Parfum de Luxe hovers just above the skin after 25 minutes, smelling primarily of licorice, sticky honey, expresso, and dark resins, followed by a decayed floral, musk, and the tiniest hints of tobacco. Vanilla creeps in from the sidelines 45 minutes into the perfume’s development. The floral elements melt into the background around the same time, letting the dark, resinous, and burnt honey accords dominate center stage. They are joined there by the first suggestion of something vaguely ambered and golden at the end of the first hour. There is a dense stickiness to this dark heart which is really appealing. It’s also very well calibrated and balanced, as it never feels cloying or like a saccharine overload on my skin, thanks to the bitter elements which help to keep the sweetness fully in check.
Parfum de Luxe turns into a skin scent on me shortly after the 90 minute mark, losing some of its resinous density and turning somewhat thinner in feel. However, it is still extremely strong when you sniff your arm up close. Interestingly, the tobacco finally starts to emerge in its own right, though it’s quite muted at first. Parfum de Luxe is now primarily an expresso and licorice scent, infused with burnt, caramelized honey and an occasional ghostly pop of vanilla.
The notes slowly start to overlap each other, losing their distinct, individual edge at the end of the 2nd hour. Parfum de Luxe feels like a blur of darkness, dominated primarily by expresso with growing touches of an abstract tobacco. The scent feels almost leathery at times. On occasion, an abstract “floral” tonality pops up in the background, but it is nebulous and hard to pull apart. Sometimes, I think I can detect a subtle strain of a jammy rose, but other times I think I’m just imagining it. The dark, resinous, somewhat bitter mass has only momentary hints of sweetness, but they always fade away. About 3.5 hours into Parfum de Luxe’s development, it becomes even harder to separate the tobacco and expresso from the general sense of a bouquet that is simply dark and balsamic.
The one big change in all this is the role of the vanilla. It begins to grow more prominent, especially at the start of the 6th hour, and occasionally takes on a soft, powdered undertone reminiscent of tonka. It helps to soften Parfum de Luxe’s sometimes sharp, bitter edge from the expresso and tobacco, but only to a small extent. In its final moments, Parfum de Luxe is a simple smear of darkness with a hint of vanillic sweetness. All in all, the perfume lasted just over 6.25 hours on me, with generally soft sillage throughout.
I haven’t read of anyone experiencing black licorice or bitter expresso with Parfum de Luxe, but the core essence of a resinous, dark scent has been talked about by a few people. Victoria of EauMG has a lovely review of Parfum de Luxe which reads, in part, as follows:
This fragrance contains many, many notes. They all play off of each other nicely. However, when worn on my skin, I pick up sweetness. I get rich, raw honey. It’s sexiness verges on vulgarity. I love it. Yeah, at the initial wear I get a bit of the balsamy, purifying sage. But, that is blended with rich old-fashioned roses. (DSH uses the finest rose absolutes that I’ve ever sniffed). These roses are hard for me to identify because they are soaked in sticky, raw honey. They smell gourmand, candied, sticky, and sweet. Throughout the wear the honey really sticks on me (no pun intended). I do get buttery, creamy orris mixed with the honey. Sometimes when I wear this, I get the rich white florals but they have been baked into a buttery, honey cake. I must add that the orris and honey combo is lovely. It inspires me to add orris root to my next honey cake. (Perhaps toasted orris root?) I think it would be quite amazing. Anyways, back to this fragrance. The base still has sweetness. The honey doesn’t vanish but it does get quieted down by rich, resins and unisex mosses. This is the stage where I would definitely call Parfum de Luxe a chypre. It’s woodsy and mossy but still sweet with amber, tobacco, and vanilla. I want to call it a gourmand chypre if there is such a thing. Regardless if there is or isn’t such a thing, I know I like it. It’s delicious, rich, sensual.
Like I said, this fragrance wears very sweet on me. It’s all honey, candied/edible flowers, and rich, gummy resins. I find it very sexy and it is one that I love to wear in the fall/winter. Its richness warms me up on cool, damp, classic Western Washington days. [¶][…]
It is long-lasting and it smells expensive. I think this would be a nice replacement for Tom Ford Private Blend’s retired Moss Breches [….][Emphasis to name with bolding added by me.]
Perfume-Smellin’ Things has a brief comparison of Cafe Noir and Parfum de Luxe, at least in terms of their feel and visuals:
Café Noir is meant to re-create the vibe of a Paris night at a club during the Jazz Age. It has a very vintage feel, with a bit of Habanita’s decadent soul in it, and it is definitely one of those “handle with care” scents that are better suited for a hot date than a job interview. It has Black Pepper, Coffee Absolute, Tolu Balsam and Vanilla Absolute, among other things. Its “sister scent” is Parfum de Luxe and I am pretty sure she is the older sister. Café Noir is the intriguing gamine with the short dark hair, but Parfum de Luxe is a Cool Blonde with lots of money and spends her summers on the Riviera. It is meant to bring to mind the Art Deco movement, and it smells very French indeed[.][Emphasis to names with bolding added by me.]
On Fragrantica, there is only one review for Parfum de Luxe. “Sherapop” writes:
I’ve been celebrating the arrival of cold weather for its most notable virtue: the sudden suitability of labdanum amber-based oriental perfumes!
DSH Parfum de Luxe is a dense and rich blend of a variety of oriental base elements and flowers which ends up smelling somewhat dirty to me. Perhaps the oakmoss and clary sage are somehow producing an animalic effect? I do not believe that ambergris (as opposed to labdanum amber) is present here, but the overall effect is slightly naughty smelling.
Whatever the source of the dirtiness of this scent may be, Parfum de Luxe is clearly brothel-ready and probably a good choice also for those who find straight-up labdanum amber perfumes too boring. I would place this composition in the neighborhood of such creations as Cartier Le Baiser du Dragon and Must. A very heavy scent. [Emphasis to names with bolding added by me.]
The particulars of my experience may differ substantially from those of other people, but I think all of these other reviews fully capture the feel and mood of Parfum de Luxe. Even the talk of dirtiness makes sense, though I don’t think Parfum de Luxe is skanky, and it definitely isn’t ripe like a brothel scent. The one area where I sharply disagree is with Perfume-Smelling’ Things’ comparison to a blonde, for Parfum de Luxe feels quite as dark as its Cafe sister. Actually, substantially darker, since it lacks Cafe Noir’s golden, gourmand beginning.
I think both scents are strongly unisex and could be worn by anyone who appreciates dense, resinous Orientals with amber and various levels of sweetness. Both Cafe Noir and Parfum de Luxe have substantial heft, and a heart of darkness. One is more smoky after a gourmand start that focuses on cinnamon, while the other is more bitter with expresso, licorice and burnt honey, but both turn into a very resinous, dark, ambered scent with a slightly leathered or tobacco’d nuance. That said, the differences between the two are significant enough to warrant trying both, if you’re interested, especially given how other people experienced significantly more floral or chypre accents from one fragrance to the next. In both cases, however, Cafe Noir and Parfum de Luxe are very well-done, interesting, and rather sexy with moderate to good longevity that could probably be increased further by generous spraying. So, if you’re tempted, give them 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.
Oh Kafka – you linguistic wizard, you. Indelibly glamoring a WTF desirability of a ‘licorice-expresso fragrance with a touch of dying gardenia’…?? Helplessly spell-bound, I have no option but to get it on my skin – as soon as I possibly can… bravo!
You’re such a sweetheart, Gaia. Thank you for your kind words. I rather needed that laugh over the “WTF desirability” 😀 today, after a night spent stressing over more technological/Wordpress/computing glitches. (Yes, I *am* quite cursed. lol) Re. Parfum de Luxe, I’m glad you’re tempted, as I think it’s lovely. But please note that I am the only weirdo who experienced anything licorice or expresso like. Everyone else had a more floral, mossy version. I can’t explain why I got expresso or licorice, but I do hope you try Parfum de Luxe anyway. I think you may enjoy it quite a bit, even without the notes that I got.
:-p So I’m not sure what kind of smiley this will look like but i want to depict my tongue hanging out as in I am salivating over these.Must resist. Must resist. Wonderful reviews, dearest Kafka!
Hurrah! I thought of you when trying Cafe Noir! I really did. And I think Vanille Botanique has your name all over it as well!
I’m surprised, but glad, to hear the Cafe Noir isn’t a hugely coffee dominated scent. I love the smell of coffee and espresso, but prefer not to wear it on my perfume. I adore cinnamon, so I’m okay with it being cinnamon-dominated. Parfum de Luxe sounds absolutely lovely! I’m a sucker for black licorice.
Unfortunately, it seems my black licorice was not something that other people have experienced, so I’m not sure how much of it would appear on you. It’s obviously a question of skin chemistry. Something weird happened to me on both occasions that I tested Parfum de Luxe, creating that strong impression, but others seem to have a much more traditionally chypre-oriental experience with tobacco, florals, and amber. Either way, I do think you’d like it, Kevin. 🙂
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