Amouage returns to the fougère family with its new Bracken Man, the latest eau de parfum to join the higher-end Midnight Flowers Collection. Last year’s Sunshine Man (also in the Midnight Flowers Collection) had fougère elements as well, but mixed them with gourmand elements. This time, in the case of Bracken, Amouage adds dark, oriental flourishes but the fragrance is truer to the fougère genre, at least initially.
Bracken is an eau de parfum that was reportedly created by Fabrice Pellegrin and Olivier Cresp, two Firmenich noses. It was released in the U.K. earlier this year, but will launch worldwide on October 1st. On its website, Amouage describes the fragrance and its notes as follows:
An elegant Fougère unveiling an aromatic vibrancy of brightness and freshness with an enigmatic signature
Top: Lemon, Bergamot, Cypress, Lavandin, Nutmeg, Clove
Middle: Geranium, Cinnamon, Cedarwood, Sandalwood
Base: Patchouli, Musk
Bracken Man opens on my skin with dried, bracing, and medicinal smelling Lavandin lavender, the roughest sort of lavender and the very type that put me off the note as a child, thanks to the plethora of cheap, dried sachets that one finds everywhere in certain parts of the South of France. In his book, The Essence of Perfume, Roja Dove described Lavandin as “Bastard Lavender,” coarse, and “inferior.” (Ibid. at 51). It’s an apt description. This is not the sort of aromatic, high-quality, fragrant, and creamy sort of lavender that one finds in something like vintage Jicky. Roja Dove says the sort typically used in fine perfumery is called Lavender augustifolia or “True Lavender.” He ranks that as the highest type of lavender, and puts Lavandin at the bottom of the list.
Here, the “coarse,” highly medicinal Lavandin is accompanied by a slew of other notes, some pleasant, some less so. The purple stalks are dusted with nutmeg and equally medicinal, bitter cloves, then woven with wet green ferns and dry cedar atop a base of damp, wet, black soil. Moments later, a chilly, brisk, sharp, and cold lemon note joins the mix.
Something about the bouquet feels nose-searing and incredibly abrasive, probably because of the smoky woody synthetics in the base. Glimmers of them surface through the lavender veil right from the start, like the dry, synthetic sandalwood which strongly resembles smoky, raspy Javanol. Yet, there are some very nice touches that peek out as well: hints of creamy and vanillic tonka, the warm breath of fragrant cinnamon, and the bright, peppery piquancy of geranium. Those parts work well with the sense of leafy ferns bedecked with dew and growing out of the loamy soil in the innermost depths of a verdant forest.
It’s a pity that the type of lavender used is so rough, but it’s actually not the difficult part of Bracken’s opening. Its combination with the increasingly shrill lemon and the nose-searing wood smoke that is rapidly seeping upwards from the base results in an accord that feels antiseptic and a lot like a smoky version of a toilet bowl cleaner. At first, I thought it was just me and some residual, latent traces of my old childhood lavender issues but, later, I read two accounts on Bracken’s Fragrantica page which used almost the exact same “toilet bowl cleaner” description that I had in my notes. “Originaldeftom” called the opening unpleasant, “medicinal,” and “pungent,” and said: “Your nostrils get scorched with some pine/ cedar/ lemon-acid ‘toilet cleaner’ on steroids. It is screechy and smells cheap.” A second poster, “Nada,” also described Bracken’s opening as “toilet cleaner.”
Bracken Man shifts after 25-30 minutes. A spicy patchouli awakens in the base, stirring next to expanding ripples of tonka which begin to seep upwards. Up top, the cinnamon becomes a major and lovely presence, but several of the other notes start to overlap, turning blurry, while others fade away, rendering the overall bouquet less complex. The lemon and geranium fuse into one; the sense of ferns and wet earth disappears; and the wood smoke grows stronger.
Bracken is quite different when smelt from afar on the scent trail versus when I smell my arm up close. From a distance, it smells predominantly of cinnamon-dusted lavender layered with creamy tonka, then wrapped up with moderate amounts of wood smoke. It actually surprises me how quickly the bouquet has transitioned into something pleasant on the distant scent trail, even if it no longer evokes the verdant, fern-filled forest floor. I think it’s largely due to the tonka which has softened the lavender, at least a little. That fact combined with the disappearance of the shrill lemon and the emergence of spicier, warmer notes helps to alleviate a portion of the unpleasant “toilet bowl” aroma that plagued Bracken’s first 20 minutes. Not all of it, but some of it.
Things are different when I smell my arm up close. There, Bracken is not as simple and has more nuances, mainly the patchouli which wafts puffs of spicy, earthy, and slightly leafy, green aromas. There is a subtle hint of geranium lurking at the edges, too. However, both elements are heavily muffled and overpowered by the guttural, raspy wood and woody-smoke synthetics. In addition, the deeply medicinal, coarse, and pungent “toilet bowl cleaner” accord is still evident and almost as strong as ever. When combined with the harsh wood/smoke synthetics, particularly the Javanol (one of my longstanding nemeses) the result is difficult for someone with my physical sensitivities. Whenever I smell my arm up close for too long, the back of my throat instantly tightens, feels scratchy, and begins to hurt.
Bracken Man continues on the same path for the next two hours. It’s a bouquet of aromatic, dried lavender infused with patchouli, cinnamon, and tonka that lies atop a woody, medicinal, and smoky base. The top notes unexpectedly remind me of Parfums de Nicolai‘s Amber Oud in its middle to late stages. Contrary to its name, Amber Oud contains no agarwood and isn’t an amber soliflore at all. Instead, it’s centered on a creamy, tonka heavy lavender (much like lavender ice-cream) layered with patchouli, a quiet spiciness, and a touch of incense smoke. The patchouli, spice, and smoke are hardly as forceful as they are here and the Nicolai fragrance is much milder, sweeter, and more golden, but, when I smell Bracken from afar, I’m occasionally struck by the similarity of the top notes.
Roughly 2.75 hours into its development, Bracken Man changes course. The Javanol-like, nose-singeing “sandalwood” explodes on top, filling the lavender with intensely abrasive, guttural, blackened wood smoke. The cedar (which smells like an amber-woody aromachemical) balloons as well. Together, they cut through the tonka’s ameliorating sweetness and turn Bracken much drier. I’ll be honest, I desperately wanted to scrub the scent at this point and couldn’t bear to sniff my arm. I also didn’t enjoy the headache and sore throat that ensued whenever I did.
Over the next few hours, the woody and wood smoke elements grow so forceful and so overpowering that they turn the lavender into a tertiary player. Roughly 4.75 hours into its development, Bracken Man pulsates smoky, aromachemical sandalwood, smoky aromachemical cedar, and woody patchouli, tied together with strands of dried lavender. Puffs of clean musk curl around the edges. It’s a profusion of dry, smoky, woody, spicy, medicinal, and faintly sweet qualities, but the woods and smoke come before all else.
This continues for roughly four hours until, finally, late in the middle of the 8th hour, Bracken’s aggressive stance begins to abate. In essence, the fragrance returns to its prior focus of dried lavender layered with patchouli, spiciness, some tonka, and smoky sandalwood. Over the next few hours, all traces of the woods, patchouli, and smoke fade away, the tonka becomes a sliver that is swallowed up by the lavender, and the clean musk laps at its edges. Roughly 13 hours into its development, Bracken Man is merely a blur of soft, aromatic lavender with cleanness and spicy sweetness. In its final hours, all that’s left is something vaguely aromatic.
Bracken Man had excellent longevity (alas), good to moderate projection, and initially heavy sillage that took a few hours to turn softer. I had a small atomiser sample and using several spritzes equal to 2 good sprays from a bottle, the fragrance opened with 4-5 inches of projection. The opening sillage was 5-6 inches but rapidly ballooned to 8-9 inches. After 90 minutes, the projection dropped to about 2.5 inches, and the sillage became about 5 inches (which is still quite good). About 3.5 hours into its development, the projection was at 1 to 1.5 inches, and the sillage was close to my body unless I moved my arms. The numbers stayed there for a while. In total, it took 8.75 hours for Bracken to turn into a skin scent, and it lasted 15.5 hours.
On Fragrantica, only a handful of people have actually tried the fragrance at this point and describe it, and their feelings skew more towards the negative side. I’ve already referenced the two “toilet cleaner” descriptions for the opening, but a third poster, “MShilov,” found Bracken unpleasant in a different way and actually used the word “repulsive.” He writes:
This is something interesting, but not in a good way. On my skin it has almost the same effect that previously released Opus X: strong geranium accord makes all the composition sound unpleasantly lifeless, it feels like sticking your nose in a dusty bunch of dried herbs forgotten at the abandoned attic of an old house. I hope this repulsive effect is specific to my skin but I find it really weird.
“Originaldeftom,” whom I’ve already quoted with regard to Bracken’s opening, has the most detailed description of the scent. He writes that the “toilet cleaner” debut is soon joined by other elements:
after a few minutes something reminiscent of Cacharel pour home [sic] pierces through, the nutmeg meets clover, underpinned with some earthy patchouli, that a work colleague described as beetroot! lol I do not agree, necessarily, with the latter, but it is a dirty, earthy, musky patchouli for sure.
Once an hour on skin, the scent tames down just a little on the hesperidic notes and that initial medicinal anise-like peppery pungent nature and becomes more ferny, green-foliage, mossy, piney, woody and agreeable to my nose.
The real coup and ace of this fragrance is the dry-down, that is rather sweet, almost Tonka bean creamy, woody without ever being cloying, due to the sandalwood meets clover, cinnamon, geranium and patchouli. This is undoubtingly the very best part of this noisy fragrance.
He also mentioned something that I found interesting:
I was told the company wanted this to be Amouage’s answer to CREED’s “Green Irish Tweed“. I would say it is that, plus the screechy beginning of a cheap toilet cleaner meets CACHAREL pour home [sic]. [Emphasis to other perfume names added by me.]
It’s been a while since I’ve tried Green Irish Tweed, but I understand what he’s saying. It’s a very aromachemical scent, and I’m hardly the only one who thinks so. Quite a lot of Fragrantica reviews say the same thing. They also find GIT to strongly resemble Davidoff’s (equally synthetic) Cool Water. Where Bracken differs in my opinion is the inclusion of heavy amounts of patchouli, even stronger wood smoke, more spiciness (particularly medicinal cloves), and a touch of tonka cream. The intensity of those first three elements is probably why a fourth Fragrantica poster, “Jhericurls,” found Bracken Man strongly resembled Tom Ford‘s Patchouli Absolu, a fragrance that is all about harsh woody, smoky, and cypriol elements, in my opinion. As a side note, he rated Bracken’s opening a 2 out of 10, but gave the drydown a 7 out or 10.
The comments reflect a trend: a deep dislike of the opening, but greater positivity for the fragrance’s final stages, at least relatively speaking and for a handful of people. That is something you may want to keep in mind if you try Bracken for yourself. The opening is not exactly a joyous, rhapsodic affair, to put it mildly. There is a moderately enjoyable phase, the timing of which may vary from one person’s skin to another, and the drydown is okay, but one has to persevere to get there in my opinion.
Bracken Man costs $325, €270, or £225 a bottle. (It’s the same retail price as a 75 ml bottle of Creed’s Green Irish Tweed, by the way.) Whether Amouage’s smokier, spicier, and more forceful version of Creed is worth that price will depend on your personal tastes. All I can say is that I found Bracken to be as disappointing as Sunshine Man, but for very different reasons, and I wouldn’t wear it under any circumstances.
Disclosure: My sample was kindly provided by Europerfumes. That did not impact this review. I do not do paid reviews, and my opinions are my own.