Pathetique is the latest creation from O’Driu and Angelo Orazio Pregoni, a scent that briefly takes you to the heart of the forest floor with black truffles, singed woods, vetiver, jasmine, and mosses that are woven together with incense, before it then segues to something very different. I liked parts of Pathetique (officially spelled with an accent as “Pathétique”) quite a bit, particularly the creamy vanilla crème anglaise that acts like a bridge between its various parts, but it is not a scent that matches up to its hyperbolic description. O’Driu describes Pathetique as everything from “performance perfume” and “contemporary artwork” to wholly “unique” in all the world and a “masterpiece” whose name was chosen as an ironic finger to critics. In reality, Pathetique is an easy, very wearable scent. It’s not a mainstream fragrance but, comparatively speaking, it’s the most commercial Pregoni creation that I’ve tried thus far. I think its approachability is a good thing, but my description would probably horrify its controversial creator.
It’s hard to talk about Pathetique without talking about its creator. Mr. Pregoni’s character is part of everything, from the scent to its press release description and his interviews about it. My initial impression was that Mr. Pregoni was a progressive free-spirit who sought to work outside the lines out of genuine intellectual artistry, and whose approach was driven purely by a self-deprecating, whimsical sense of humour. I think I was mistaken.
Several recent reports from people within the perfume industry that were told to me privately show a very different side to Mr. Pregoni, as does a very telling Fragrantica interview with him which took place at the recent Pitti exhibition and concerned, among other things, Pathetique and “perfumed art.” None of this is helped by the self-aggrandizing way that the scent is described on the O’Driu website. Ultimately, though, it is not my place or business to talk about a perfumer as a person, only about the way a fragrance smells. So, I’ll leave it to you to read that Fragrantica interview and draw your own conclusions. I’ll move onto Pathetique.
On its website, O’Driu describes the perfume as follows:
Pathétique™ is much more than just a fragrance: it is a wonderful olfactory synthesis of the innovative art project. Angelo Orazio Pregoni chosen the name with great irony, as a sign of the critics to the current perfumery and its lack of novelty and innovation. In spite of its name, Pathétique™ is a great perfume, a masterpiece of the most creative Nose of the whole world perfumery, an absolutely surprising fragrance that conquers senses, heart and mind as no other[.]
Extraordinary, out of the box – in one word: unique – Pathétique™ is out of any olfactory scheme, offering an originality that evolves itself continuously. The creator himself considers it as his masterpiece, conceived with the precise purpose of demonstrating that it is still possible to achieve a true, great scent. The uniqueness of this creation reflects not only in its refined packaging, but mostly in its formula, the natural outlet of an experience of over thirty successful fragrances, pure innovation, the authentic Made in Italy.
There are no notes listed on that page, but the press release that O’Driu sent me explains more:
has a new and unique execution: a feeling of Italian soil – realized through an atypical use of black truffle smell – opens the doors to bergamot orange sensations and cocoa butter perceptions, meanwhile the holy wonder of daring and elegant incense grows among short flowers scents and strong juniper, exotic black pepper and burned mystic woods. Mosses, mimosa, vetyver and amyris unite themselves to tell the truth, the newness and the originality, until the perfume gives a scare sensation. When the vanilla comes up, it seems nothing belong to our world and the miracle of worry is not a banal, unimaginative or already tried one.
Pathétique is a contemporary artwork. [Emphasis, formatting, and bolding in the original.]
According to Luckyscent, the succinct note list is:
Black truffle accord, bergamot, incense, juniper, black pepper, burned wood accord, moss, mimosa, vetyver and amyris.
Pathetique opens on my skin with black truffles infused with incense, woody vetiver, singed woods, syrupy sweet lemons, and jasmine. A streak of fresh, foresty green juniper runs lightly through it, as well as a woody lemon from the amyris’ more elemi side and a pinch of black pepper. The whole thing sits atop a woody base that is just lightly covered with moss. For the most part, though, Pathetique’s core focus in the opening minutes really feels like a two-pronged one. There is lemon (that is both citrus in nature as well as woody) infused with smokiness (which smells like burnt wood but, also, strong incense). The jasmine, vetiver, juniper, and pepper all trail behind, though the juniper does lead the stragglers. Bringing up the rear at a far distance is the moss which feels too much of a vague suggestion or hint to create a truly verdant, chypre-like greenness.
Despite the strong lemony opening, the overall effect is to create a very foresty sort of scent. You can almost feel the black earth covered with dark leaves, greenness, and herbs, under which a few truffles peek out. They’re nestled at the base of a juniper tree that is smoking from the after-effects of a forest fire and is also covered with vetiver. A floral sweetness weaves enjoyably throughout it all, adding a counterbalance to the competing themes of earthy forests and dark smoke.
None of this lasts for long, though, as Pathetique is quite a shape-shifter in its opening hour. In fact, it segues through a series of transitions quite quickly. The sweet, lemony syrup is the first to go, retreating to the sidelines after a mere 7 minutes, and the combination of earthy elements takes its place as one of the main two prongs of the scent. I like the fact that Pathetique doesn’t have the strong herbal or medicinal touch of earlier O’Driu fragrances. It’s also not as unctuous as some of the others which, in the case of Eva Kant, for example, has a definite gourmand or foody facet.
Roughly 10 minutes in, Pathetique shifts again. The vanilla surges up from the base, adding a creamy layer that coats all the other notes. It smells a little like crème anglaise sauce, and works beautifully with the black truffle note that hints (just barely) at a chocolate undertone. Meanwhile, the juniper joins the oakmoss, pepper, and lemons on the sidelines, the smoke turns smoother, and the jasmine curls around everything like a thin veil of golden, floral warmth. For the most part, Pathetique is now primarily a blend of earthiness, black truffle, and vanilla cream, lashed with abstract woodiness and sweetened yellow flowers that vaguely resemble jasmine. The whole thing is wrapped up with ribbons of blackened incense. All the secondary notes feel abstract of hazy, lacking a clearly delineated identity or edge, but it results in a smoother fragrance.
The creamy vanilla is my favorite part, perhaps because I’m a sucker for crème anglaise. What’s nice about the note here is that it isn’t gooey, heavily sweetened, cloying, or too custardy in nature. In some ways, it’s really more like a profound textural element centered on creaminess, rather than an actual vanilla note. Every part of it is infused with smoke and burnt woods which ensure that the sweetness is kept in check. For some crazy reason, the overall combination with the black truffles makes me feel as though I’m wearing tiramisu. Pathetique is much earthier and smokier than that dessert could ever be, but the fragrance shares the same sort of dusky bitterness as dark cocoa that has been mixed with vanilla.
30 minutes into its development, Pathetique’s incense and woods melt even more into the other notes, and the tiramisu vibe grows even stronger. The vanilla has an abstract, vaguely jasmine-like floralcy, while the black truffles, vetiver, burnt woods, and oakmoss have fused into a haze of earthiness. Once in a blue moon, the lemon pops up from the sidelines to offer a burst of sunny freshness, or there is a wisp of greenness, but neither element is very significant. Pathetique is now mainly vanillic, gourmand creaminess lashed with abstract touches that range from indistinct floral sweetness to chocolate-like earthiness and various forms of dark, smoky, woodiness.
At this point, Pathetique feels a lot like a relay race between the various notes. One of them seems to stay in the lead for 10 minutes before another note comes up from far behind to take the baton, and the process then repeats. Every time I think the scent has settled into its dominant pattern, its profile changes: from gourmand vanilla with black truffles in a tiramisu-like bouquet; to a woody fragrance dominated by foresty elements and vetiver; to an incense perfume with singed, smoking woods. The vanilla seems to be the transitional bridge or pathway between the various blends. Oddly, however, the jasmine continues to be a very shapeless, indistinct touch. It doesn’t have a strong, individual character of either jasmine sambac or jasmine grandiflora on my skin. For the most part, it merely imparts a vague sense of something warmly golden and “floral.” As for the lemon, its opening forcefulness never repeats itself, neither as sweet, citrus syrup, nor as the more woody version from amyris (which Fragrantica says is also sometimes called “torchwood” and is the source for elemi balsam).
At the end of the first hour and the start of the 2nd, Pathetique slowly starts to transition into its main bouquet. The jasmine retreats to the far distance, while both the vanilla and the dark chocolate tiramisu vibe weaken substantially. Taking their place as the dominant accords are the green vetiver, burnt woods, and incense. The notes continue to rest upon a strong vanilla foundation which now seems much more custard-like than it did before.
With every passing moment, Pathetique turns more and more into a seamless mix of vetiver vanilla infused with smokiness that is derived in equal parts from incense and singed woods. At the start of the 5th hour, the perfume is merely smoky vetiver with incense. There are occasional hints of vanilla, as well as a wisp of something vaguely floral in the background, but both are really microscopic. The vetiver is really the key, though, and it remains that way until the perfume’s final hour when Pathetique turns into simple smokiness with dry woodiness.
All in all, Pathetique had moderate sillage and very good longevity. The perfume lasted just a hair over 12 hours on me on both times that I tried it. Using roughly 3 big smears or the equivalent of 2 small spritzes from an actual bottle, Pathetique opened with about 4 inches of projection. That number dropped to 2 inches after 30 minutes, then to 1 after 90 minutes. Pathetique turned into a skin scent at the 3.25 hour mark, but it continued to be easy to detect up close for several more hours.
On Fragrantica, there is only review for Pathetique thus far. “Colin Maillard” is a long-time O’Driu fan and has a long analysis for Pathetique which reads, in relevant part, as follows:
Basically, it opens with a surprisingly white, creamy, sweet accord (almost milky at the beginning), rotond, radiant, also rather peaceful and suspended, meditative and mystical: there’s incense underneath the sweet notes, a sweet, talc, dusty, sheer kind of incense (Angelo told me he used two different incense resins here). […] shortly a subtle, dirty fog of odd darker notes arises, melting with the white clean breeze of vanilla, spices, white flowers and tonka (I’m referring to notes I smell, perhaps the actual materials aren’t there). Between these two contrasting axes, an earthy-rooty accord made of black truffle and vetiver. I don’t know how he actually built that truffle note, but it smells quite close to truffles, and it suprisingly fits the composition perfectly, providing an exotic, slightly gassy feel of earth and roots. Plushy clouds and dirty soil, innocence and dirt[.] […][¶]
So overall, quite a remarkable twist from O’Driù’s previous style, which was quite more on the herbal/spicy/dark side, more animalic too, and in a way more obsessive and organic. Pathétique is surely quite close to Eva Kant and Peety, still delivering that mellow, ambiguous, woody, rooty, medicinal, mesmerizing feel all over; but enhancing cleanliness, whiteness, sweetness and gracefulness. Personally I find it incredibly refined and honestly irresistible, besides being complex and interesting to “elaborate” and discover – it’s also simply a great scent to wear, it’s sophisticated, vibrant, warm, unisex. The drydown is fairly drier than the previous phases, always sweet but more dusty, with a darker feel of benzoin, perhaps even a hint of castoreum, then woods, and then again earthy and rooty notes, leather (I think) and a slight metallic feel. More “grey” than white at this stage, with still a weird “fog” all over which provides a feel of talc, just dirtened with dust and soil[….] Finally, sillage is huge and so is persistence (money well spent, in short).
Pathetique has no Basenotes entry thus far, and there are no blog reviews other than one that repeats the Fragrantica comment just quoted, but the Fragrantica interview with Mr. Pregoni does provide a brief description of the scent. There, Sergeuy Borisov writes:
Pathétique is The Performance Perfume, but story aside— it’s just a decent perfume, a velvet-like powdery sweet and woody fragrance.
It reminds me of different things: chocolate confectionery from my Soviet childhood (it was the best part of the sweet presents from Ded Moroz—Santa Claus in Russia), old wooden chests, my first books taken from the kid library (the best were always so worn by thousands of kids!), dry stones and dry wooden sticks found in forests, prefabricated powder of cocoa and milk, and other memories. Somehow the only thing from present times that reminds me of Pathetique is a Vanilla absolute that I smelled one day—it has a strange paper-like or wet cardboard-like smell with sweet accent and tar-like undertone.
I enjoyed parts of Pathetique, and found it to be a very wearable, easy fragrance. It joins Peety as one of the two O’Driu creations that I have liked the most, but it doesn’t bowl me over enough to ever consider buying a bottle for myself. Part of the reason is because I’m not very enamoured of vetiver and, thus, the drydown. As a whole, I don’t think Pathetique is the “unique,” “extraordinary” “masterpiece” of its description, nor anything edgy enough to be conceptual “Performance Art,” but the latter is not a bad thing actually. In my experience, “Art” usually isn’t very wearable, while Pathetique is. So, if you enjoy black truffles, incense, vetiver, woody notes, and a delicious touch of vanilla cream, give it a try for yourself.
Disclosure: My sample was courtesy of Luckyscent. That did not influence this review. I do not do paid reviews, and my opinions are my own.