Sometimes, things don’t work no matter how much you try. That was the case for me with the fragrance that Stephane Humbert Lucas as a Harrods’ exclusive. It is simply called “Harrods,” and it was the second release last year in his new Snake Collection.
This review will be slightly different from my usual ones because I fear I have to start with more explanations than concrete, official details about the scent. One reason is because the background to the fragrance is a bit confusing in the context of names. Another is because there isn’t much information about the scent out there. And, lastly, there is the issue of friendship. I’ll get to that in a minute, but first a brief explanation is needed about how the Harrods exclusive fits into the wider context of Monsieur Lucas’ brand.
When Mortal Skin and the Harrods exclusive were launched in the middle of last year, it seemed at first glance as though Monsieur Lucas had started a new brand that was completely separate from the one widely referred to as “SHL 777.” That is because the fragrances were issued under the name “Stephane Humbert Lucas” instead of anything bearing a “777” tag. In actual fact, as Monsieur Lucas explained to me, “777” is merely the name of a collection; it is not an actual part of the brand or company name which is officially “Stephane Humbert Lucas.” Theoretically, none of us should be referring to the brand as “SHL 777,” even if it’s so much easier. That said, since most people (including myself) use the common shorthand of “SHL” for all things released by the perfumer, I’ll refer to the Harrods parfum as “SHL Harrods,” mostly because it will facilitate things for anyone searching for information on the fragrance.
Before I get to the perfume review, I want to disclose upfront that Monsieur Lucas has become a friend of mine. We’ve only communicated electronically or online, we’ve never met or spoken on the phone, but we are more than social acquaintances who talk about his latest release. We’re friends who talk about personal things far more often than anything involving perfume.
However, I do not let personal relationships impact my reviews, my assessment of a fragrance, or how I will write about it here. In the past, I haven’t hesitated to write negatively about fragrances sent to me by people I’ve met in person or who I consider a friend. I believe in keeping things separate, and in the importance of being honest when I write a review. And, as you will see, friendship won’t stop me from ripping apart the first part of SHL Harrods as a garish, unbalanced, hot mess. I absolutely loathed the fragrance the first few times I tried it. Where friendship comes into play is the fact that I gave it more chances than I typically would, but the fact that I received a full bottle also played a big role as well. Whenever anyone — friend or not — is generous enough to send a full bottle of a perfume, especially a rather expensive and hard-to-find perfume, then it seems only fair to give it every chance possible, even if it takes months and even if I know I’m unlikely to change my mind and will probably end up lambasting the fragrance in a review later.
In the case of SHL Harrods, Monsieur Lucas sent me a bottle about 6 months ago, but it’s taken me all this time simply to wear it to the end and without scrubbing it off. The first time I tried it, I didn’t last 10 minutes. The second time around, I didn’t fare much better. After months of building up some sort of tolerance to the difficult and challenging opening stage, I finally managed two complete wearings, hence my review at this time. At this point, I can say that the drydown is okay and will probably appeal to people who love incense-woody-amber orientals, but I still loathe the opening immensely and I would never wear the fragrance as a result. My issues with SHL Harrods even extend to part of the packaging. The colour scheme, gold plaque, and snake design are nice, but I find the caked-on blobs of green wax on the cap to be strange, jarring, and cheap-looking. I took a close-up photo to show you because, in my opinion, it makes the bottle lack the elegance and chic-ness of the 777 ones.
I don’t have specific details about SHL Harrods to share with you except for the fact that it is a pure parfum in a 50 ml bottle and costs £250. I don’t know its notes, the official press description, or its backstory. Harrods doesn’t list any SHL fragrances on its website, and this one is no exception. And Monsieur Lucas hasn’t gotten back to me on what’s in the fragrance despite my prodding, though he’s always been amused by how much I hate the scent.
It’s difficult for me to guess all the notes that may be in SHL Harrods because many elements feel fused together but, if I were to hazard a guess, I think it has:
Immortelle, patchouli (really fruitchouli), saffron, other spices (probably clove and cardamom, possibly a pinch of black pepper), cedar, myrrh, frankincense, labdanum amber, musk, probably tobacco, probably styrax resin, possibly rose, possibly something green or leafy, possibly something herbal, and possibly some berried fruit (though that note may really be coming from the fruitchouli).
SHL Harrods rarely opens the same way twice on my skin in terms of which notes are first in line or more dominant, and their nuances sometimes vary in the early minutes as well. However, as a general rule, the fragrance begins with a hefty amount of immortelle syrup that flows like a thick, sticky river over a very fruity, berried, and rose-like patchouli. The sense of a “rose” is extremely strong in all my wearings, and it sometimes is the lead note rather than the immortelle. The latter never smells of pancake maple syrup, by the way; it’s merely a sticky sweetness which usually dominates as the primary note in my tests, but it occasionally lets the fruitchouli’s “rose” take the lead instead.
The “rose” is a multi-faceted accord. Its petals are coated with a spice mix led by a very fiery saffron, but there is a sense of cloves, cardamom, and pepper floating around as well in the background. Its most prominent companion, however, is a thick layer of soapiness that seems to originate from an almost oily myrrh resin absolute. As regular readers know, I loathe soapiness in fragrances and the huge degree of it here is extremely difficult for me, but even more so in conjunction with the immense sweetness of the scent. Matters aren’t helped much by the fact that the immortelle syrup is taking on a burnt quality that rapidly feels quite acrid to me. The myrrh’s inherent smokiness is probably to blame but, whatever the actual source, the combination of fruitchouli berry molasses, burnt immortelle syrup, and waves of soap feels like a hammer to my nose.
There are other elements that appear in the early moments as well. In a few tests, there was a tiny ray of something lemony laced with an incense-y, smoky darkness in a way that evoked the opening of SHL 777 Black Gemstone. In others, what stood out instead were streaks of cedar and an amorphous, almost leafy greenness. They combined with the burnt immortelle sweetness and the saffron-spice accord in a way that called to mind Mortal Skin, only much sweeter and far more burnt. Sometimes, though, it was Une Nuit à Doha that echoed in the background, thanks to the way the immense stickiness of the immortelle draped itself over something fruity. It may not be orange and it may smell like fruitchouli instead, but SHL Harrods occasionally felt like a woodier cousin to Une Nuit à Doha nonetheless. The bottom-line is that SHL Harrods frequently manifested themes of prior SHL releases in its first hour.
In my most recent tests, a fragrance from an entirely different niche brand came to mind as well. It was the reformulated, fruitchouli-heavy version of Malle‘s Portrait of a Lady that I thought of most often in the first hour. Something about SHL Harrod’s immensely rosy debut infused with the patchouli, soapiness, clean musk, and spices felt very similar. In essence, SHL Harrods’ opening bouquet felt like POAL with a slug of Mortal Skin tossed in. I’m not keen on either of those fragrances, so none of this was a positive for me.
My greatest problem with SHL Harrods and one that was consistent in all my tests was the issue of pitch during the first 2-3 hours. Parts of the scent are pitched at such levels of concentrated force and loudness that they take some getting used to, particularly the myrrh’s soap and the immortelle’s syrup. The latter is not sugary (at least not at first), but it’s so viscous, dense, and burnt in nature that I recoiled the first time. The soapiness isn’t much help, either, but the real issue is the sum-total of the individual high-decibel components. When combined together, the cumulative effect is a shrill, garish, gaudy, and completely unbalanced opening that bludgeons the senses. My usual baseline quantity for testing a fragrance is 2 sprays (or its equivalent via dabbed smears when I don’t have a spray sample), but 2 sprays of SHL Harrods seemed to amplify all three of the most difficult aspects: the immortelle’s acrid, burnt, and sticky aspects; the myrrh’s soapiness; and the patchouli’s gooey fruitiness. It was easier to desensitize or acclimate myself using a lesser quantity of 1 spray but that didn’t bring out all the fragrance’s nuances, like that hint of bright, sunny lemon in the opening, the subtle incense-like smokiness, or the cedar. With a smaller dosage, SHL Harrods also feels more linear than it actually is and there is less clarity to its stages of development.
Like a number of SHL creations, the Harrods Exclusive is a bit of a kaleidoscopic fragrance in the sense that it shows different facets each time you wear it, so its development doesn’t always follow the same set course. Typically, though, from what I’ve noticed, there seem to be a few basic patterns. About 90 minutes into its evolution, SHL Harrods grows woodier, smokier, even sweeter, and more acrid. The myrrh is sending out strong puffs of darkness, and frankincense seems to be popping up in the background. Together, they infuse the immortelle, making the syrup feel quite burnt. At the same time, the cedar grows more powerful. The spices, fruitchouli, and “rose” coalesce into a blurry lump and can’t be separated. The soapiness softens, but a clean musk takes its place as a major player. Even worse, it feels as though mounds of white sugar have been mixed into it. On the sidelines, drops of something herbal are sometimes detectable when I sniff my arm up close. Usually, it reminds me of thyme but, sometimes, it almost feels like fenugreek. It’s difficult to tell amidst the deluge of sugared musk, woods, spices, and fruitiness. While the last two accords are softer and more balanced now, the others feel as intense, lopsided, and unbalanced as ever.
SHL Harrods typically begins its main or heart phase at the end of the second hour and the start of the third. The woods are coated with sugar, smudged with blobs of berried fruitiness (fruitchouli) at the edges, then laced up with clean musk, while the immortelle is fully fused with incense/myrrh smokiness. But, when I smell the scent circulating in the air and from a distance, the overall impression is primarily of spiced, fruity woods sheathed in burnt, smoky immortelle syrup. All of it feels dense, sticky, and thick in a way that is very much like a high-end, luxury version of a Middle Eastern fragrance, even though SHL Harrods does not share their typically monster projection or sillage.
Yet, gradually, the fragrance turns drier, smokier, and darker, mellowing out in its loudness and losing some of its gooeyiness. The notes are overlapping, blurring, and becoming difficult to single out. Tobacco slowly emerges, usually around the middle of the third hour. In one test, it was really noticeable and quite lovely, smelling dark, dry, sweet, but also aromatic and almost leafy green in a way. Typically, though, it is a very minor note on my skin, and is enveloped within everything else in a way that makes it difficult to single out. The same situation applies to the labdanum that starts to seep up from the base around the 4th hour. More often than not, it, too, is suffused within the general darkness that is now falling like a shadow over the sweet, spiced woods that dominate SHL Harrods’ heart. The cumulative effect of all these changes is to make the scent much more palatable, especially now that the fruitchouli is no longer blaring away. The strength of the clean, white, sugared musk continues to dismay me, though.
By the end of the 4th hour, SHL Harrods is a blur of lightly sweetened, spiced woods infused with frankincense and soapy myrrh, then set against an ambery backdrop. The last vestiges of fruitiness remain at the edges, but they’re fading fast. The fruitchouli’s rose-like facet vanished long ago, and the rest of the patchouli joins it at the start of the 6th hour. The immortelle’s sweetness and the spices die out around the same time. On occasion, the incense resins feel dusty or faintly green but, for the most part, they smell pure, smoky, soapy, and slightly woody. It is very much the aroma of real, high-quality incense resin or essential oil (mainly myrrh but also some frankincense) rather than the aromachemical crap that so many perfumers use instead. A new arrival, styrax resin, accentuates the smokiness and the sense of balsamic darkness.
The full drydown generally seems to begin around the 7th hour. SHL Harrods is now a fusion of incense, resins, and woods with some dusty, soapy undertones but only a hint of ambered warmth. By the time the 10th hour rolls around, frankincense is really all that’s left, though there is a faint vestige of something woody in the background. SHL Harrods remains that way until it finally dies away.
SHL Harrods had good longevity, initially moderate sillage that took a while to turn soft, and soft projection. With 2 sprays, it opened with 3 inches of projection and about 5-6 inches of sillage. It remained that way for some time. After 3 hours, the projection was an inch, but the sillage was roughly the same. SHL Harrods only became a skin scent on me after 8 hours, but it faded rapidly after that, becoming quite hard to detect after unless I really sniffed my arm hard. It coated the skin extremely quietly, but it still clung on, lasting 12.5 hours in total. With 1 spray, I was surprised to find that my numbers weren’t significantly lower and that it still took about 8 hours for SHL Harrods to become a skin scent. This time, it merely lasted 10.5 hours.
In terms of other people’s views of experiences with SHL Harrods, I haven’t found any discussion of the scent to share with you. Neither Fragrantica nor Basenotes has an entry for the fragrance. There is no Basenotes discussion thread that I’ve found for it or any blog review, either. So you’re stuck with me for now.
My overall take is that this is a fragrance that requires a lot of patience because the opening is truly unbalanced and difficult, but the scent does improve over time. No, really, it does. In fact, I think that the middle and drydown stages are likely to appeal to those who enjoy real, authentic incense-woody orientals. (Some of the Armani Privé fragrances come to mind, for example.) But the first 90 minutes… dear God, they were grueling. The fragrance felt like a hodge-podge of styles and past SHL releases, all blasting away with the sort of untrammeled Middle Eastern loudness that is probably intended to appeal to Harrods’ Arab clientele. It isn’t until later that you see the finesse that Monsieur Lucas has demonstrated with some of his other fragrances. So, if you try SHL Harrods, be patient. For me, though, it’s a pass.
Disclosure: My bottle was provided by Stephane Humbert Lucas. That did not impact this review. I do not do paid reviews, and my opinions are my own.