Fragrant Indian rosewood is the focus of Palissandre d’Or, a spicy woody-amber fragrance from Aedes de Venustas. It is an eau de parfum that was created by Alberto Morillas and released in 2015. However, even though it was inspired by Indian rosewood, it is not literally and actually a rosewood fragrance, only metaphorically so. To put it bluntly, this is the scent of an “imaginary wood,” and I’m quoting Aedes de Venustas’ own words when I say that:
The idea for the house’s fifth offering was sparked off by the Indian rosewood tree also known as Dalbergia sissoo, which has historically been the primary rosewood species of northern India.
Rather than a specific essence, it was the word “palisander”, redolent of intricate Oriental carvings and serene Asian groves, which provided the inspiration. “I can’t make overly figurative fragrances”, Alberto Morillas explains. “To me, a perfume is a melody.” With Palissandre d’Or, he draws mesmerizing music from this imaginary wood.
In my experience, a lot of abstract or impressionistic fragrances contain at least a tiny bit of their targeted material, typically via synthetics, but Palissandre d’Or has absolutely no rosewood in it at all. I suspect the main reason why is the fact that several rosewood varieties are on endangered species lists, particularly the top-of-the-line Brazilian sort. As a result, I think one should stay clear of Fragrantica‘s misleading note list (which flat-out includes rosewood) and stick to the official one given by Aedes de Venustas with the rest of their official description:
In this dazzling olfactory marquetry, crystal-clear ambrette – a natural musk with rose, pear and iris facets – brightens rich inlays of cool spices: pink pepper, coriander and nutmeg. Then, as the torrid heat of cinnamon rises, the scent opens up its heart to deliver its secret: a rare sandalwood extract from Sri Lanka. Subtly smoky, rose-tinged and creamy, it is made more luscious still by the milky warmth of copahu balm and a silken patchouli extract.
A bold trio of cedar essences add structure and texture to the lustrous blend. Clean, bracing Virginian cedar gives it vigor and tempo. The Lapsang Souchong tea facet of Chinese cedar and the Russian leather smokiness of Alaskan cedar – another rare new extract showcased by Alberto Morillas – carve burnished patterns into the fine-grained wood. The scent of Ambrox, an intriguing fusion of warm, clean bark and sun-kissed skin, tattoos the delicate motifs onto the body… Serene and mystical, Palissandre d’Or is a journey into the quintessence of wood.
Top Notes: Ambrette
Middle Notes: Pink pepper, coriander, nutmeg, cinnamon
Base Notes: Sandalwood, copahu balm, cedarwood [a trio with Chinese, Russian and Alaskan cedarwood], patchouli, ambroxan
Palissandre d’Or opens on my skin with pink pepper that is fruity but also so spicy that it resembles raw ginger and red chili peppers. It’s slathered thickly over quietly fragrant cedar that smells like clean, pencil shavings and soft, crumbly sawdust. Moments later, other notes appear as well: a touch of woody, clean patchouli; a whisper of resinous, caramel-scented, faintly ambergris-like sweetness; and then copious amounts of dry Ambroxan “amber” that is mixed with ambrette’s quietly urinous, strongly vegetal animalic muskiness. The whole thing is then dusted with soft, warm, woody-sweet spices dominated by a generous slug of cinnamon, although the merest pinch of a lemony coriander appears once in a while in the first ten minutes.
The cumulative effect is a mixed bag for me. I’m completely confused by the fieriness and sharpness of the pink pepper because those aren’t typical attributes. In perfumery, I’ve found that it typically smells immensely fruity, jammy, sweet, and with almost rose-like aromas, and nothing like a chili or red pepper. Perhaps it stems from the combination with the Ambroxan? Regardless of source, though, I think Amouage‘s Journey Man did red chili pepper/pimento-like fieriness to much better and more enjoyable effect. That aside, the rest of the bouquet in Palissandre d’Or’s first few minutes is appealingly cozy with its lovely semi-sweet, semi-dry mix of woods, spices, and musky “ambergris.”
Ambroxan is one of the most critical elements in Palissandre d’Or on my skin from start to finish, so it’s worth taking some time to explain what it is for those of you who may be unfamiliar with the note. Ambroxan (also known as Ambrox or Ambroxide) is an aromachemical intended to replicate certain facets of ambergris, like its salty, marshy, musky and lightly sweetened, caramel-scented tonalities. In addition, it also has a soft undertone of clean woodiness but, above all else, it is meant to bear a skin-like quality, an aura of almost tactile golden warmth. In a 2010 Perfume Shrine post on the aromachemical, Elena Vosnaki wrote:
Ambrox is typically used as one of the base notes of perfume compositions, due to its extremely lasting velvety effect which oscillates between an impression of ambergris (salty, smooth, skin-like), creamy musky & labdanum-like (read on labdanum on this link) and with “clean”/blond woody facets in the mix too. In short, a fascinating molecule that presents itself as a prism through which different facets can shine. Its reception is undoubtedly one of positive response: You’re hit with something that smells warm, oddly mineral and sweetly inviting, yet it doesn’t exactly smell like a perfumery or even culinary material. It’s perfectly abstract, approximating a person’s aura rather than a specific component, much like some of the more sophisticated musk components do. Fittingly, Ambrox solves some of the shortcomings of the latest IFRA restrictions on several musks and animal-like base notes.
There are quite a few Ambroxan-heavy fragrances with which you may be familiar. Escentric Molecules Escentric 02 is pure Ambroxan. Nothing else. Dior‘s new Sauvage apparently contains massive quantities of the note, and I’ve heard people say that is forceful (and aggressively “needle sharp”) in the drydown. Some other Ambroxan-heavy fragrances are: D&G‘s Light Blue, Prada‘s Luna Rossa, Byredo‘s M Mink, Le Labo‘s Another 13, and Armani‘s Si. The brand, Juliette Has a Gun, seems to use a lot of Ambrox or Ambrox-related kin materials in its fragrances. To give just two examples: Calamity J. and Not a Perfume (although, technically, the latter contains Cetalox, a similar and closely related aromachemical).
Ambroxan crystals are relatively inexpensive, which is one reason why the material was once heralded as an affordable replacement to real ambergris, but I’ve noticed a major love/hate polarity in people’s responses. In fact, the intensity of the “hate” side seems to far surpass negative reactions to ISO E Super, in my opinion, perhaps because people aren’t quite as anosmic. On Basenotes, there are numerous Ambrox discussion threads (like this one, for example) but also ones entitled things like: “Ambroxan can we get it banned as a fragrance ingredient?” On Fragrantica, there is a similar split in reactions. (See e.g., “I can’t stand the smell of Ambroxan!!“)
One reason for the antagonism is that Ambroxan doesn’t always come across as the “warm skin” and golden, marshy, musky ambergris that is intended. For all the Perfume Shrine’s admiring prose in its 2010 post, a 2011 one on unpleasant aromas and what may be their cause mentions both Ambrox and Cetalox:
- The “nose-hairs burning” effect is often due to synthetic woody-ambers, such as Ambroxan or Karanal, which smell like strong rubbing alcohol when in isolation.
- Cheap ambers such as Cetalox are also used in functional fragrances (i.e detergents), so presence in a fragrance can also give the association of laundry day.
To me, how Ambroxan smells in a fragrance is highly dependent on its treatment, the other notes, and the quantities used. Sometimes, it can indeed have a “nose-hairs burning” aspect but, at other times, it shares a certain musky, quietly sweet, golden quality with ambergris. The muskiness is not animalic in the way of ambrette, and frequently has a certain skin-like warmth that is plush, almost beautifully velvety at times, and really quite enjoyable. However, I find Ambroxan typically feels bone-dry. On occasion, it can manifest a “hot poker,” needle-like sharpness, and a strong peppery aspect as well.
Here, in Palissandre d’Or, all those things are evident on my skin, particularly as the fragrance develops. The fragrance contains so much Ambroxan from start to finish that it often overshadows the woody notes which, I must say, smell absolutely nothing like rosewood to me. Not even impressionistic or abstract rosewood.
To me, Palissandre d’Or is a woody-spice-amber composition made up almost entirely of Ambroxan with chili-pepper-fruity-pink/red pepper, cedar, and generalised spiciness. In fact, it takes as little as 15 minutes for the first two notes to surge to the forefront. The Ambroxan’s force cuts through any sense of resinous or caramel-scented sweetness, suppresses the patchouli, fuses all the spices together into an amorphous blend that is nebulously cinnamon-ish, and, finally, makes the fragrance much drier. The cedar lags several steps behind, so dominated by its partners that it often feels more like simple, soft, clean woodiness rather than a solid, dense, powerful or clear note. At other times, though, the cedar’s pencil shavings and sawdust aromas are more prominent. Hanging like a thick haze over everything is the ambrette, its vegetal animalism acting as a finish and a smoothing agent over the other notes.
The sum-total for most of the first three hours is a mix of Ambroxan, fruity/fiery pink/red pepper, abstract spiciness, and soft woods, all wrapped up in a haze of muskiness that is vegetal (ambrette), nebulously urinous (ambrette), musky (Ambroxan and ambrette), and skin-like (Ambroxan). Much of it bears the “transparent” and “fluid” approach that Alberto Morillas so favours and that Aedes’ official text explicitly mentioned.
However, there’s a difference when I smell Palissandre d’Or up close versus in the air around and from a distance. Up close, there is a needle-like, almost burning sharpness that is extremely unpleasant. From a distance, unfortunately, all I detect for most of the first 3 hours is fruity/fiery chili pepper layered with peppery, occasionally animalic, and very musky Ambroxan. It reminds me a lot of something I once tried from Juliette Has A Gun, although I cannot recall which one it was because: A) I blocked out the unpleasant experience; and B) so many of their fragrances seem to have jammy red fruits doused in a bucket of Ambroxan (and laundry musk) that they blur together in my mind.
Palissandre d’Or doesn’t twist, turn, and morph in any dramatic way as it develops. All that really happens is that the prominence, order, and nuances of those three main accords changes as the fragrance develops. Midway during the 2nd hour, the fragrance feels softer and the balance of notes begins to change. The pink/red pepper is less forceful, less domineering, while the spice-laced cedar makes a valiant attempt to steal the limelight from the Ambroxan. Most of the time, it fails, but at least the woods are more distinct now than they were at the start. But, still, none of it smells like rosewood to me. It’s cedar, pure and simple. Having said that, though, on two incredibly brief, fleeting instances, the sandalwood in the base popped up, smelling soft, spicy, quietly smoky, and warm, as though it had been mixed with resins and patchouli. But it never lasts and is so muted that I sometimes wonder if I imagined it.
Roughly 2.75 hours into its development, the notes realign once again, and Palissandre d’Or segues into a short heart stage that is centered primarily on soft, musky, spicy, and ambered cedar. There are occasional flickers of ambrette smelling animalic/urinous, a fleeting suggestion of something resinous, but the bouquet really is just cedar infused with Ambroxan “amber” and spiciness. It’s actually rather pleasant, perhaps because the red/pink pepper has temporarily bowed out and disappeared. In addition, the Ambrox is gentler, it has lost much of its pepperiness, and its skin-like qualities are on full display in a very inviting way. As a whole, the composition feels better modulated and smoother.
Palissandre d’Or’s long drydown begins about 3.75 hours into the fragrance’s development and is centered almost entirely on Ambroxan. The pink/red pepper returns but, like the cedar, it’s a highly fluctuating sideline note that waxes and wanes in visibility. What is at the forefront is not just the Ambroxan but its “skin”-like feel in particular, giving the fragrance a plush, almost thickly creamy, warm, and velvety tactile quality. Its pepper, musk, and bone-dryness remain, as well as a vestige of chili-like fieriness when I smell my arm up close, but it’s a lovely scent from afar, radiating a soft spiciness and golden warmth. The cedar tends to be a background note, shimmering and weightless, smelling of soft sawdust and cleanness, but with every passing hour, it grows weaker and fainter before essentially fading away at the end of the 5th hour and the start of the 6th.
What’s left behind is only the Ambroxan and its warm “skin.” To my surprise, the pink pepper briefly returns midway during the 7th hour, adding fruitiness and a jammy sweetness to the Ambroxan “amber” and “skin,” but it’s an ephemeral, quiet note that comes and goes, never staying solidly in one place. It finally disappears late in the 10th hour, leaving only Ambroxan warm skin and golden, spiced muskiness until Palissandre d’Or finally dies away.
Palissandre d’Or had good longevity, initially strong sillage, but generally soft projection on my skin. Using several smears roughly equal to 2 good sprays from an actual bottle, the fragrance opened with 3-4 inches of projection and a scent trail that extended 7-8 inches, perhaps because my skin amplifies the reach of any fragrance containing a significant quantity of aromachemicals. Roughly 90 minutes in, the projection drops to 2 inches, the sillage to about 4-5, and both continue to decrease with every half hour. At the end of the 2nd hour and start of the 3rd, they’re 1.5 and 3 inches, respectively. The projection hovers just barely above my skin at the start of the 4th hour, while the sillage is close to my body unless I move my arms. Palissandre d’Or becomes a skin scent not long after, about 4.5 hours into its development. At the 8.5 hour mark, the fragrance felt as though it was about to die and was difficult to detect unless I put my nose right on my arm, but the scent clung on tenaciously until the middle of the 14th hour, although it was the merest wisp coating the skin. When I tested Palissandre d’Or using a lesser amount equal to 1 spray from a bottle, the numbers were lower, the fragrance became a skin scent after 3.25 hours, and it lasted just a hair over 7.75 hours in total.
On Fragrantica, there are 4 reviews for Palissandre d’Or at this time and they’re generally positive, although frankly I think there is ambivalence lurking underneath three of them because they’re not raving, gushing adoring reviews and their writers don’t seem eager to own the fragrance. “Woodlandwalk” thought it was beautiful but too masculine for her tastes, and said it reminded her of “entering a perfectly preserved Tudor mansion – the scent of old woods and old fashioned pot pourri, slightly Medieval.” She added:
The animalic element lent by ambrette gives a slightly sweaty, human presence without being skanky, a slightly saline quality that made me think of vetiver.
It’s the way I’d like all my furniture to smell, I’d definitely hang a pomander scented like this in my wardrobe, and a faint whiff of this lingering on clothes would be perfect, but as a perfume, as mentioned, I find it veers towards masculine.
The other two reviews thought Palissandre d’Or was unisex and nice, but neither one is exactly bubbling over with enthusiasm if you ask me. “Arabian Knight” described it as a unisex and “casual day wear” fragrance that was: “dry, sweet, spicy and woody. Quite simple and linear, but fans of other cinnamon scents like ‘Spice Bomb‘ and ‘Noel au Balcon‘ will definitely appreciate it.” [Emphasis to other perfume names added by me.] “Cereza” calls it:
Subtle and very, very dry with the hint of slight sweetness. Perfectly unisex, stays closely to skin giving a very elegant approach. [¶] [It is] suitable for those people who enjoy wearing scents that stay close to skin, giving an elegant and beautifully creamy whiff to anyone who comes close enough. Luxury and subtle, wraps the wearer with a very classy and warm scent like cashmere shawl.
Lasting power was average on my wrists, around 5 hours and in all honesty I found it a bit too light for my taste.
Kevin at Now Smell This seems slightly more enthusiastic. As a rosewood lover, he begins his review by stating that it is best to “banish” the idea of rosewood “from your mind or you may create disappointment for yourself before giving the perfume a chance.” He then goes on to say:
For once, press materials2 speak The Truth: “Abstract yet intensely evocative, Palissandre d’Or expresses the quintessence of Alberto Morillas’ style, defined by the master in three words: ‘Fluidity, transparency and power.’”
Palissandre d’Or delivers a spicy pink pepper-and-cinnamon punch to start — I also notice a frankincense-like note with a sharp vanillic edge (there’s a background smokiness present throughout this perfume, too). Quickly, Palissandre d’Or segues to a mellow, sweet wood fragrance: part creamy sandalwood, part damp/lush cedar. The woods present subtle, almost fruity, rose notes, and bolder leather and patchouli aromas. Palissandre d’Or ends with an amber-y accord: beautiful, smoke-hugged woods, patchouli and sheer leather: all on the sweet side.
For him, Palissandre d’Or was a “wistful” fragrance that made him think of “a warm, dark room in winter, and a man, face calm, reading something serious, perhaps a book of poems [….]” It sounds infinitely more interesting and nuanced on him than it was on me or the Fragrantica commentators.
I thought Palissandre d’Or had occasionally nice bits (limited largely to the Ambroxan’s “skin” feel and its quasi-ambergris-like nuances), but it was never evocative and always felt overly simplistic on my skin. It was basically quite boring to wear when taken as a whole, or at least too boring for $245 a bottle. It was so boring, so humdrum, and so lacking in evocative power that writing this review has felt like trudging through molasses. I have absolutely no problem with linear or simplistic fragrances, but I think one must love the key note(s) in question. Pink peppers, Ambroxan, and cedar pencil shavings do not rise to that level for me. And I don’t like purely abstract, impressionistic scents, either.
Maybe you’ll have more luck with the fragrance. Try it if you like “fluid” and “transparent” spiced, woody ambered fragrances. It’s a total pass for me.