Two masters of the indie genre got together to play a transatlantic olfactory game whose only rule was to put their individual spin on the gourmand genre, combining ideas and formulas for over a year until they came up with Cadavre Exquis. They call it their “Frankenstein” twist on the genre but, to me, it feels much more like an oriental fragrance that gives only an occasional or passing nod to gourmand tropes until its drydown. It’s a rich, smoky, earthy, sometimes leathery, and always heavily spiced immortelle-driven fragrance that I think will appeal enormously to some fans of classic Serge Lutens, Andy Tauer, and the much-loved Histoires de Parfum, 1740/Marquis de Sade, though there are a few caveats involved, as you will see.
Cadavre Exquis is a new, limited-edition eau de parfum that was created by Fazzolari‘s Bruno Fazzolari and Bogue‘s Antonio Gardoni, and released just two days ago. The press release that I was sent explains their goal for the fragrance, how its name refers to an old 1920s Surrealists’ game that the two perfumers used to collaborate on the scent, and some of its notes. The explanation reads, in part, as follows:
The term cadavre exquis refers to the game originated by the surrealist artists of the 1920s. In the game, players collectively assemble words or images to create a poem or drawing, with each player making a contribution of his own while totally unaware of the others’. […][¶]
Antonio Gardoni (Bogue Profumo – Italy) and Bruno Fazzolari (Bruno Fazzolari Studio – USA) adapted the game for perfume. They planned and played their game for over a year: swapping, adding and assembling scents, formulas, perfume samples, texts and drawings. The only rule was a keyword: “gourmand” —a popular sweet-fragrance that has been called “insulting to perfumer’s craft.” It is a category of perfume that neither perfumer had explored.
The result is a challenging, experimental eau de parfum produced and bottled in Bruno’s artisan lab in San Francisco. It is a “creature” made of strangely mismatched parts, a smelly Frankenstein, a “monster” that fights against the obvious. [¶]
Notes include: blood orange, camphor, ylang-ylang, tagetes, dried fruit, star anise, chocolate, cypress, benzoin, vanilla and civet.
If you read carefully, you’ll see that the text implies that those are only some of the notes in Cadavre Exquis, and not the full, complete list. I personally think several of the most important elements are omitted, at least judging by what appeared on my skin both times that I tried the fragrance, starting first and foremost with immortelle. My guess for the fuller note list would be something like this:
Immortelle, tobacco, leather, cumin, possibly fenugreek, possibly ginger, blood orange, camphor, ylang-ylang, tagetes [a type of marigold], dried fruit, star anise, chocolate, cypress, benzoin, vanilla, civet, labdanum/cistus, woody-amber synths, frankincense, and possibly patchouli.
Cadavre Exquis opens on my skin with a powerful wave of heavy, thick immortelle that smells of banana leaves, maple syrup, and, above all else, yellow curry powder. Other notes are layered within: a skanky cumin ripeness and muskiness; an immense dusty earthiness from the tagetes; a handful of dry tobacco leaves; and a pinch of powdered, dark cocoa. After a minute or two, they’re joined by dried, plummy fruits that feel coated in crystallized or candied ginger, then by slightly biting star anise, and a faint, fleeting drop of dry, woody vanilla.
The overall effect is a bouquet that has one foot planted within gourmand territory and one outside. Yet, to me, it feels as though Cadavre Exquis inverts the type gourmand tropes and merely pays them passing lip service. With the exception of the immortelle’s syrupy aspects, everything else feels oriental — and not in an oriental-gourmand or hybrid sort of way, either. I’m talking pure oriental, like an ancient spice shop where a patina of dust and age-old spices can be found at the bottom of an old wooden spice drawer. That immense sort of dustiness, earthiness, and dryness not only offset the immortelle’s sweetness, but also call to mind such great orientals as Andy Tauer‘s L’Air du Desert Marocain, albeit an immortelle-centric version. Even if the immortelle is sweet, its other aspects are more powerful. By a three-to-one margin, it’s redolent of curry and cooking elements more than maple syrup, to the point that Cadavre Exquis’ opening reminds me frequently of the banana-leaf, curry, immortelle opening of Teo Cabanel‘s labdanum oriental, Barkhane. When I do smell the immortelle’s maple syrup side, it doesn’t evoke a gourmand to me so much as Histoires de Parfums‘ oriental 1740/Marquis de Sade, thanks to the way it’s mixed with somewhat skanky, musky cumin and with dark, dried fruits.
In the midst of this intense orientalism, the ostensible gourmand elements are far too minor or dry to really have much impact on my skin. The chocolate is dark, somewhat powdered like dry cocoa, unsweetened, and verging almost on the bitter; the vanilla is both dry and so smothered by the deluge of earthy, dusty spices as to be practically irrelevant; and the fruits are the opposite of fresh, bright, pulpy, or sweet. Despite the sense of crystallized ginger, they don’t feel candied so much as dried, dark, and heavily spiced à la Lutens, with Fille en Aiguilles coming to mind in particular along with a fainter impression of the cumin-infused plums from the Feminité du Bois series.
Cadavre Exquis’ rapid changes take it even further away from true gourmand territory as it develops. Less than 15 minutes in, streaks of smoky camphor appear at the edges, feeling black and a bit oily. It’s quickly overshadowed by a new note, a herbal dried greenness redolent of fenugreek and bearing faint undertones of dill. It accentuates Cadavre Exquis’ curry and foodie vibe, especially when it intertwines around the cumin and the immortelle. On the sidelines, dry woods appear, smelling like fresh sawdust from cedar planks. The cumulative effect adds to the Lutens’ vibe (his plum, cumin, ginger, woody fragrances now joined by the fenugreek-dill of Santal de Mysore), but I’m also reminded at times of SHL 777‘s Arab style as well. Lest my point is unclear by now, Cadavre Exquis opens as a hardcore oriental on my skin, regardless of any passing nods to the gourmand genre. The materials simply have not been handled or combined together in a way that feels either like a dessert or a particularly sweet fragrance. That will change in the drydown, but, for now, it’s oriental all the way.
Cadavre Exquis continues to rapidly change and develop. Roughly 30 minutes in, a smoky, woody leatheriness pops up on the sidelines, followed by a slightly boozy amber accord. The sense of camphor grows stronger, and it seems related to the leather, perhaps because both bear a very parched, smoky, (aromachemical) blackness. The vanilla retreats to the background where it will stay for a number of hours. At the same time, the chocolate grows more pronounced, but it’s still too dark and bitter to give off truly gourmand vibes. It weaves in and out, tying the immortelle, spices, tobacco, herbs, dried fruit, dry woods, smoky leather, and amber together.
Yet, the primary focus of the scent continues to the immortelle and the earthy, curried, cumin, fenugreek spice mix. The two accords are so fully intertwined and form such a major part of the first hour on my skin that I’d estimate they make up as much as 65% of the bouquet, perhaps even 70%. The tobacco initially takes second place during the first 30 minutes, amounting to roughly about 15%, with the dollops of spice-coated dried fruits, star anise, cocoa, and dry woods making up the remainder. At the end of the 1st hour, the smoky leather joins the tobacco in second place, but Cadavre Exquis’ core focus remains unchanged.
What interests me is the way the secondary or tertiary notes differ in their prominence, order, or nuances depending on how much scent I apply. When I used a small quantity equal to 1 small spritz from a bottle, the supporting players were different. The curried, banana-leaf, syrupy immortelle was accompanied right from the start primarily by an immensely smoky leatheriness and charred wood smoke. The bitter orange also appeared at the onset, and in a far more visible fashion than the fenugreek, the dark chocolate, or the vanilla, many of which felt negligible to nonexistent. The dried fruits were fainter in this version, overshadowed by a combination of the orange and amber that resulted in a boozy, fruited sweetness. Yet, this version still felt purely oriental in vibe, not gourmand. Its main focus was, as always, the curried, syrupy immortelle but it was now bracketed by an arid, immensely tarry, leather-woody smokiness on one side and by boozy amber on the other, all wrapped up with ribbons of earthiness, dusty spices, and dry, gritty, raw tobacco.
This time, Cadavre Exquis didn’t remind me of the Lutens aesthetic at all and was purely Andy Tauer in feel: an immortelle version of L’Air du Desert Marocain fused or crossed with his tarry, woody, leathery, and smoky Incense Flash (which is not a liturgical incense fragrance on my skin, despite its name) and a bit of his ambered, tobacco, tarry creosote Amber Flash. I’ll be frank, the leathery smokiness was far too abrasive, tarry, rasping, and desiccated for me; it gave me a bad sore throat after only 15 minutes; and it continued for the first two hours in such an intense way that I eventually scrubbed the perfume. But quantity makes a difference, and a larger amount (equal to 2 good sprays) in my second test resulted in the more balanced and multi-faceted opening that I’ve described for most of this review. As a result, when the abrasive woody-amber or leather-woody-smoky synthetics kicked in later, it wasn’t quite so unbearable to someone with my sensitivities. I still had a sore throat, but there were enough appealing aspects to make me hang in there.
Ultimately, regardless of how much fragrance I apply, both versions eventually turn into one, and end up in the same place after 90-120 minutes. Cadavre Exquis becomes an immortelle-spice mix that is layered with tarry leatheriness, black smoke, smoky woods, earthiness, muskiness, dark tobacco, dried herbs, a drop of booziness, and a smidgeon of dark, dried fruits, then cocooned in a dry ambery warmth. It continues to call to mind various Tauer creations, particularly at the start of the 3rd hour when the tarry leather and the woody, creosote-like smokiness surge forward in strength. In fact, they become the second most dominant accord, and transform the spiced, earthy, curried, sweet-dry immortelle as a result, cutting through its sweetness, and infusing it with just as much smokiness as curry and banana-leaf. The cumulative effect is a scent that is dominated primarily by dry, spiced, heavily smoky immortelle-leather. All the other elements run through it, but they’re subsumed within the main accord in such a way that only small puffs are detectable on the scent trail in the air unless I smell my arm up close.
Cadavre Exquis changes again in the middle of the 6th hour. The black leather weakens quite substantially, leaving a smokiness that is no longer tarry. It’s less sharp and desiccated, though I still find it abrasive when I smell my arm up close for too long. Still, the fragrance now smells primarily of smoky immortelle infused with sweetness, earthiness, curry powder, dark dried spices, dark dried fruits, dry woods, and faintly boozy, cognac-style amber. Wisps of leather, camphor, spicy patchouli, and dried herbs linger at the edges.
Cadavre Exquis continues to improve as it time passes. Its smokiness gradually loses much of its abrasive scratchiness and once in a while, particularly during the 7th hour onwards, it actually smells increasingly of real frankincense rather than mere (synthetic) blackness. It’s a more balsamic, faintly resinous, faintly lemony, purer and truer sort of incense smokiness than before. More importantly, the vanilla awakens in the base at the end of the 7th hour, and begins to seep upwards. It’s a dry vanilla but with just enough sweetness and silky richness to offset the smoke’s dryness. It works particularly well with the growing waves of amber that begin to fall over the immortelle, blurring its shape and diluting it.
Roughly 8.25 hours into its development, Cadavre Exquis turns into a hazy blend of labdanum amber, immortelle-ambered booziness, balsamic resins, dry spices, dry woods, earthiness, smoke, and vanilla. Every now and then, I catch glimpses of the immortelle’s curry or maple syrup sides, the tarry, rough leather in the background, or slightly charred wood/wood smoke, but they’re fleeting and largely swallowed up by everything else. It’s the same story for the patchouli that I’m convinced is lurking somewhere in there as well, unless the mix of spiced woodiness, (tagetes) earthiness, cocoa, and tobacco is somehow throwing me off and recreating its aroma. Patchouli or not, the overall effect is delightful: rich, cozy, comforting, not too dry, not too smoky (or synthetic), and wonderfully golden.
Cadavre Exquis’ gourmand side only becomes a distinct and powerful factor on my skin during the fragrance’s drydown phase which begins a short time later, near the end of the 9th hour. That’s when the fragrance becomes far too sweet for me personally, and I think it’s largely due to the vanilla. It takes on a strongly custardy feel that is accentuated by elusive, ghostly whispers of ylang-ylang.
More importantly, though, it heads straight into the caramelized crème brulée territory that is so typical of vanilla gourmands. The vanilla is now just as sugary as it is custardy, its caramel crust slathered on with a combination of boozy amber and immortelle syrup, then blackened at the edges with smoke, before the whole thing is nestled amongst dry, smoky woods. Weaving all around the background are tendrils of tarry leather, frankincense smoke, spicy patchouli (or something recreating its aroma), earthiness, and, once in a blue moon, a wisp of cocoa. I find it very cloying and excessively sweet, though I admit that I have a low threshold for sugariness and am not a gourmand fan in general.
From afar, Cadavre Exquis smells a little differently, though. There, the focus is not on the vanilla but on ambery, spicy, and heavily smoked (raspy) woods. They have a lick of vanilla creme brulée, but it isn’t very distinct or clearly delineated amidst the thick coating of generalized sugary sweetness and syrupiness that lies atop those charred woods. But regardless of whether I smell Cadavre Exquis up close or from afar, something about the scent feels grating to me. It’s either the (synthetic) wood smoke or the cloying syrup. Unfortunately for me, both things remain almost until Cadavre Exquis’ very end. By the start of the 12th hour, the fragrance is a simple blend of spiced, ambery, dry, smoky woods coated in gourmand, vanillic, sugary and syrupy sweetness. Then, in its final hours, all that’s left is spiced, smoky, woody sweetness.
Cadavre Exquis had soft projection, moderate sillage, and good longevity. Using several generous smears equal to 2 sprays from an actual bottle, the fragrance opened with about 3.5 to 4 inches of projection, and a scent trail that extended 4-5 inches before it grew after 20 minutes to roughly about 7 inches. The projection dropped at the start of the second hour to about 2 inches, but the sillage was roughly the same. The fragrance softened at the start of the 4th hour: the scent trail dropped to about 3-4 inches, while the projection was roughly between 1 and 1.5 inches. Cadavre Exquis only became a skin scent 8.75 hours into its development, but it was easy to detect up close without major effort until the 13th hour. Then, I had to put my nose right on my arm. In total, it lasted just short of 17 hours. Keep in mind, though, that my skin holds onto fragrances that contain strong smoky, woody, or smoky-amber synthetics longer than the average person.
Cadavre Exquis was launched just two days, May 7th, at the Hammer Museum’s AIX scent fair, so it’s far too new for a Fragrantica page, a Basenotes page, or even blog reviews. I’ve looked, but I’ve found nothing to give you a sense of how other people view the fragrance. I’m afraid you’re stuck with me for now.
My nutshell summation is that I think Cadavre Exquis is going to be extremely popular amongst people with particular tastes. While the gourmand lovers will love the drydown, the rest is going to hit all the right buttons with oriental fans of Lutens, Tauer, and SHL 777. There are a few major caveats to this, however. People who share my sensitivity to smoky aromachemicals or to Andy Tauer’s creosote Tauerade base may struggle as I did with Cadavre Exquis’ first 6 hours, while gourmand-phobes who can’t stand any sugariness may not like first the next phase. What I worry about even more, though, is people’s reaction to the powerful and persistent curry aroma of the immortelle. I think that will be a definite challenge for some, and even more so when combined with the musky, earthy, and slightly skanky ripeness of the cumin, or the very food-like vibe of the fenugreek. If you don’t mind the foodie, herbal aspects of early O’Driu fragrances, Lutens’ fenugreek/dill Santal de Mysore, his cumin-heavy orientals, the banana-curry opening of Teo Cabanel‘s Barkhane or the curry-maple syrup elements in Parfum d’Empire‘s Fougère Bengale, then you should be fine here. If any of those fragrances were too strongly curried or foody for you, then I think you may have issues here as well. The note is a lot stronger, more persistent, and heavier here than it was in most of those fragrances, in my opinion.
Assuming that you pass the curry test, then the people who I think will most enjoy Cadavre Exquis are those who fall into at least one (and preferably two or more) of the following categories:
- People who love L’Air du Desert Marocain, Incense Flash, Amber Flash but, also, vanilla gourmands as well;
- Gourmand and oriental lovers who love the old Lutens style, and who would enjoy an immortelle-driven fragrance that gives passing nods to the cumin of Feminite du Bois or Bois et Fruit, the fenugreek/herbs of Santal de Mysore, the ginger-plum incense of Fille en Aiguilles, and the dried, plummy, heavily spiced fruits and wood of his other fragrances;
- Gourmand and oriental lovers who would love an immortelle-centric version of several Tom Ford fragrances: the fruity, smoky leather in Tuscan Leather; the plummy fruits, incense, spices, and amber of Plum Japonais; and a sweeter version of the vanilla in Tobacco Vanille; or
- People who would enjoy a mash-up of 1740/Marquis de Sade and L’Air du Desert Marocain but with more intense smoke, leather, spice, and tobacco before the fragrance subsequently turns powerfully gourmand at the end.
In the absence of any comparative reviews to share with you, these names are intended as guidelines to give you a sense of the general feel of the fragrance, but please note that I am not saying Cadavre Exquis smells identical to all those fragrances, or even to a large number of them. It does not. Moreover, if the names on the list skew rather all over the map, that is because Cadavre Exquis is intentionally meant to be a “smelly Frankenstein,” a creature made up of many parts, though they’re not as “mismatched” in my opinion as they are in the eyes (or words) of the perfumers. I think the parts work very well together and, were it not for the abrasive smoke, woody-amber synthetics, or the inescapable level of sweetness at the end, I’d be tempted to look for a decant. Very few of you share my aromachemical sensitivities or sweetness issues, though, so I think some of you will love Cadavre Exquis quite a bit. Having said that, please don’t overlook my caveats regarding the curry, the food vibe, the Tauerade-style tarriness or smoke, and the immense sweetness at the end.
I’m repeating that because I know the words “limited-edition” tend to make some of you lose all control and venture into blind-buys. I also know how much Messrs. Fazzolari and Gardoni are admired. A collaboration between the two is a very exciting thing, and the lure of Cadavre Exquis becomes all the greater when one hears that there are only 99 bottles of it. That’s it. No more. The fragrance costs $245 for 50 ml of eau de parfum, and is sold exclusively at the Fazzolari U.S. website and Luckyscent. It will not be sold on Bogue nor at any international retailer.
But, please, don’t let that sway you, and get a sample to test it first. I suspect Cadavre Exquis will be a challenging, possibly even a polarizing, fragrance. Having said that, I urge you to get a sample if you fall into any of my 4 categories, if you love immortelle in all its many facets, if you thoroughly enjoy gourmands, Tauerade, and the various fragrances mentioned here, and if my caveats only increase your anticipation. In that case, then I think you’ll find this “smelly Frankenstein” to be quite endearing.
Disclosure: My sample was provided courtesy of Luckyscent. That did not impact this review. I do not do paid reviews, and my opinions are my own.