DSH Perfumes Bodhi Sativa & Vanille Botanique

The wonders of patchouli and balsamic resins are the respective focus of two fragrances from DSH Perfumes. The first is Bodhi Sativa which presents patchouli in all its many facets, while the second is Vanille Botanique which actually focuses on Tolu and Peru balsams to create a dark, smoky, ambered fragrance that is infused with vanilla, then laced with civet for a slight touch of animalic muskiness.


10 ml bottle of Bodhi Sativa.  Source: DSH website.

10 ml bottle of Bodhi Sativa. Source: DSH website.

The DSH website describes Bodhi Sativa as a “suave and elegant patchouli perfume with a sexy, bohemian twist: a note of cannabis is hidden in the mix.” The fragrance was Ms. Hurwitz’s entry in the “Summer of Patchouli Love 2011” / Peace, Love and Patchouli! project, and she wrote on her blog that she sought to make a summery, lighter patchouli, to the extent that was possible.

At the same time, however, Bodhi Sativa is a completely botanical fragrance, a fact which carries a particular significance. You might be wondering, what exactly is a botanical scent, and how does it differ from a regular “natural” fragrance? Well, in a nutshell, it really comes to essential oils in their most concentrated or absolute form. In other words, a 100% botanical fragrance is really like an attar in richness, though not all attars are heavy and dense in nature.

According to my email correspondence with Ms. Hurwitz, the notes in Bodhi Sativa are:

East Indian patchouli, brown oakmoss absolute, hemp, Indian davana, frankincense co2 extract, cassis bud absolute, champaca absolute, osmanthus absolute, beeswax absolute, dalmation sage, green mandarin, jasmine sambac absolute, lemon, grapefruit, centifolia rose absolute, galbanum, rosewood, australian sandalwood, buddhawood, Texas cedar, vanilla absolute, Tolu balsam, and benzoin.

Ms. Hurwitz added that a number of these elements form the “cannabis” accord mentioned on her website. In short, there is no actual marijuana in Bodhi Sativa

Painting by: Dorian Monsalve at dorianscratchart.com

Painting by: Dorian Monsalve at dorianscratchart.com

Bodhi Sativa opens on my skin with seemingly every possible facet of patchouli imaginable. It’s a rich, dense, chewy bouquet of booziness, greenness, earthiness with wet, sweet soil, dusted with spices, infused with smoke, and then placed on a bed of ambered sweetness. The intensity of the cognac-like booze fades within minutes, however, leaving a very earthy, sweet aroma. Tiny hints of vanilla simmer underneath while green touches similar to wet leaves are nestled all around. A very brown tonality flitters about, feeling almost like decayed moss and humus, with a touch of sweet peat. At the same time, there is a definite aroma of hemp that smells like sweet hay. The whole thing is flecked by smoke, honey, and green woods.

It’s an extremely complex layering of notes up close, reflecting every single possible nuance of the main ingredient. From afar, however, the main impression is merely of a kaleidoscopic patchouli dominated by earthiness. The latter becomes even more prominent after 5 minutes, particularly once all lingering traces of the cognac fade away. Taking its place is the first suggestion of woodiness, led by the cedar, then the rosewood. I don’t detect any floral notes at all.

Bodhi Sativa is extremely concentrated and rich in feel, but it is also surprisingly airy. The perfume feels soft, and the sillage matches. 3 massive, long smears gives me just 2 inches in initial projection, and it drops down to just above the skin after 10 minutes. However, it remains there for the next two hours, wafting its dense, chewy, gold-brown-green hues. Bodhi Sativa only turns into a skin scent on me after the start of the 3rd hour.

Source: footage.shutterstock.com

Source: footage.shutterstock.com

The perfume starts to shift and change 20 minutes into its development. At first, it is merely the lightest touch of mint that doesn’t alter Bodhi Sativa’s dominant focus on sweet earthiness. I do like the latter, but I wish there were an edge to the soft mushiness. It’s hard to explain, but Bodhi Sativa feels a little too ambered and earthy at this stage; I think it needs more grit, spice, and smoke. The latter exists, but it’s more akin to the merest suggestion in the background. I realise that sounds nitpicky, but, for a true “patch head,” the differences between various scents can be as important and significant as a Merlot versus an Old Vines Zinfandel. I prefer my patchoulis more like the latter, instead of the former with its mild sweetness.

Source: Stock image. footage.shutterstock.com

Source: Stock image. footage.shutterstock.com

At the 30 minute mark, Bodhi Sativa turns quite green. The camphor blooms, added a needed sharpness and edge to the sweet, earthy, ambered mushiness. Yet, Bodhi Sativa is not a true headshop scent. It’s more akin to a mix of Les Nereides Patchouli Antique mixed with Reminiscence’s Elixir de Patchouli, with a tiny side of Serge LutensBorneo 1834 (minus its strong chocolate note). Around the same time, the orange pokes up its head for the first time, but it disappears quickly, retreats to the sidelines, and only re-emerges on occasion later down the road. There are still no florals on my skin, but there is a growing whiff of the “cannabis” accord that adds a tobacco-like undercurrent to the increasingly green patchouli.

Bodhi Sativa is a largely linear scent that only changes by small degrees on my skin. As a whole, it is a blend of earthy, camphorous, sweet, and ambered patchouli with hints of cannabis, smoke, and tobacco. The main change over time is that the scent grows muskier, drier, and browner. The ambered sweetness slowly diffuses amidst the camphorous greenness, the impression of “cannabis”-like tobacco grows stronger, and the perfume takes on a slightly animalic edge. I’m assuming the latter stems from the cassis buds. The note is not feral, and it’s definitely not urinous; instead, it is more like an occasional glimmer of sharp muskiness.

Source: layoutsparks.com

Source: layoutsparks.com

Much more important than all of this is the tolu balsam in the base which fully infuses the patchouli after 4 hours. The resin is one of my favorites, but not here. There is something about the note on my skin that comes across as dirty, and it happened with Vanille Botanique as well. It’s hard to explain, but the tolu balsam has a very odd combination of brown muskiness, smokiness, staleness, and mustiness. It doesn’t feel like a well-rounded, warm, treacly resinousness, but a dank, leathery dirtiness with sharp smoke and stale, earthy brownness.

The note becomes a constant companion to the patchouli, almost seeming to dominate it at times, and transforms Bodhi Sativa into something that feels very much like an all-natural scent. The best way I can explain it is that Bodhi Sativa doesn’t feel like more than the more refined perfume perfumes in Ms. Hurwitz’s line. It’s hard to fault Bodhi Sativa for being exactly what it is, so I know it’s my personal issue, but I’m simply not keen on the end result. The mix of slightly camphorous patchouli with brown, musky dirtiness lasts for hours on my skin, thanks to the botanical concentration. All in all, Bodhi Sativa endured for just short of 13.5 hours, though the perfume was difficult to detect without hard sniffing right on the skin after the start of the 6th hour. It was around that same time that Bodhi Sativa also turned more sheer, feeling like an intimate coating of brownness.

Amongst the various reviews for Bodhi Sativa is one from the blog Perfume-Smelling’ Things. The site was one of the judges in a large perfume competition focused on all-natural patchouli fragrances from 13 different perfumers. I believe this is the “Summer of Love” patchouli project for which Bodhi Sativa was originally created. Donna ranked it in fourth place, writing:

It is a very serene, calming scent, minty “tea with milk” on me with a slightly sweetened gourmand aura to start, and later the tea subsides as the fragrance gets richer and warmer without becoming overly sweet or strong, and it’s as elegant as a polished stone. I enjoyed this fragrance very much and Dawn’s expert hand is apparent in the balanced execution. In fact it was this subtlety and smoothness that caused it to not quite make the cut since I felt that I wanted to choose a fragrance that had a strong patchouli character yet be something I could really like, and the project is all about patchouli. It’s a beautiful fragrance and I would definitely wear it, but for me it just did not have that standout patchouli zing I was looking for in the winning composition.

Source: rgbstock.com

Source: rgbstock.com

The Scent Hive blog was another one of the judges in the competition, and chose Bodhi Sativa as one of the three favorites out of the entries in a blind test. The post reads, in part:

man, if you love the kind vintage patchouli, Bodhi Sativa is speaking your language. For me it doesn’t conjure up smoke filled VW buses, but its leathery and slightly animalic aspect combined with a rich and minty aged patchouli certainly alludes to the herbal smoke. I love that Bodhi Sativa is an unabashedly patchouli fragrance. It begins and ends with the tenacious essence, but because it is harmonized with some fruity-floral nuances- I’m guessing osmanthus and rose otto- it’s never one-dimensional and wears nicely as a summer scent.

For March at The Perfume Posse, patchouli isn’t her favorite note, but she also enjoyed Bodhi Sativa, writing:

This one smells the most like “classical” perfumery to me, with a heavy overlay of patch.  It’s definitely a patch-oriented fragrance without being at all hippie-ish.  The woods and incense really shine through, and that rosey-vanilla makes it warm and rich rather than floral.  While I wouldn’t exactly call it light, and I definitely wouldn’t have busted it out in our August heatwave, it’s a fragrance I’d turn to in the winter months when I’m craving an “old lady” scent (high praise from me) with both heat and an edge to it.

Source: all4myspace.com

Source: all4myspace.com

There is only one review for Bodhi Sativa on Fragrantica. There, “Leathermountain” writes:

Before looking at the notes, I smelled chocolate ink. Once I saw the notes, I could smell both of them quite potently. Later, it was back to chocolate ink. Very close to the skin, and delightful!

As noted above, I’m not as enthused as the other commentators. My reaction surprised me as I enjoyed the opening minutes of Bodhi Sativa, and quite expected to love the rest. Still, if you’re a hardcore patch head like me, you may want to check out Bodhi Sativa. It has an old-school style that you may enjoy.


Vanille Botanique is quite a different take on vanilla. In fact, you might argue that it’s really not a “vanilla” scent at all. Instead, the primary focus is on dark Tolu and Peru balsams which flow through the scent with the thickness and turgidness of the Amazon river. Vanilla brackets the river on either side, but the main focus is always on those very smoky, treacly, almost leathered resins. Ms. Hurwitz has said that she is not a huge fan of traditional vanilla fragrances and, here, she’s twisted the genre on its head to create a more grown-up interpretation of the note.

Photo: Christopher Martin. Source: christophermartinphotography.com

Photo: Christopher Martin. Source: christophermartinphotography.com

Vanille Botanique is also a 100% completely botanical fragrance which the DSH website describes as follows:

Vanille Botanique is a luscious, balsamic vanilla in the classical style.  A soft jasmine heart and bergamot top note balance and round out the bouquet.  Such deliciousness!

1 dram mini bottle of DSH perfume. Source: DSH Perfumes website.

1 dram mini bottle of DSH perfume. Source: DSH Perfumes website.

According to Ms. Hurwitz and Fragrantica, the notes in Vanille Botanique include:

Top: bergamot, rosewood, mandarin, lemon;

Heart: grandiforum jasmine, Turkish rose otto, beeswax absolute, butter co2 extract;

Base: Vanilla absolute, Tahitian vanilla, Siam benzoin, Tolu balsam, Peru balsam, tonka bean absolute, civet, and labdanum.

Source: seriouseats.com

Source: seriouseats.com

Vanille Botanique opens on my skin with lemon and bergamot in a flood of syrupy resins, infused with brown sugar, an almost boozy Bourbon-like vanilla, and a touch of regular, custardy vanilla. On the one hand, Vanille Botanique feels like caramelized creme brulée but, on the other, it is pure resin. The latter smells simultaneously like sweetened smoke, sticky treacle, leathered darkness, and a touch of cinnamon. Within minutes, the lemon grows stronger, pirouetting around the vanilla and transforming the caramel into lemon curd topped by a brown sugar crust that is singed and dark.

Lemon curd. Photo: The NUmmy Little Blog at thenummylittleblog.blogspot.com

Lemon curd. Photo: The NUmmy Little Blog at thenummylittleblog.blogspot.com

The vanilla seems to melt more and more into the river of treacly resins. The almost boozy undertone fades after 5 minutes, replaced by the subtle suggestion of something lightly floral. It’s all very rich, dense, and sweet. Yes, it’s even syrupy, but it’s resin syrup — dominated by almost leathery, smoky, darkness – not vanilla syrup. The lemon curd is a lovely accompaniment, and is joined by bergamot to add a touch of fragrant freshness that reminds me of the Earl Grey aroma in another DSH perfume. Soft, sweet, aromatic rosewood lurks about in the distant background as well.

Vanille Botanique is very dense in feel and extremely strong at first, but it’s quite light in weight. For all that the visuals are opaque, the perfume itself is not. Its sillage is soft on my skin, as are all the DSH fragrances. Vanille Botanique wafts 1-2 inches at first, drops at the end of the first hour to hover an inch above the skin, then turns into a skin scent at the start of the 3rd hour.

The perfume starts to turn smokier and darker 30 minutes into its development. There is a leathered subset to the resins in the same way that there is in original, vintage Shalimar, which has one or both of the balsams in question. Vanilla feels less and less of a focal point, though you can see it peeking out from behind the veil. It’s a dry vanilla, like the kind in Mona di Orio‘s Vanille, but without the latter’s heavy butteriness. After an hour, the lemon curd fades away, Vanille Botanique turns softer, and a touch of tonka appears, reflecting its cinnamon and slightly powdered facets. It’s a mere blip on my skin, however, and doesn’t last long. The jasmine never appears at all.

Source: darkroom.baltimoresun.com

Source: darkroom.baltimoresun.com

Vanille Botanique shifts slightly at the start of the 4th hour. The perfume turns drier, and even darker. There is a definite leathery undertone to Vanille Botanique now, but it also has a dirty quality that I don’t particularly enjoy. One reason is the civet which becomes quite noticeable at this point. The other is the undertone to the tolu balsam that I alluded to earlier in my discussion of Bodhi Sativa. The two together combine into an aroma that feels almost like raw tobacco juice, infused with civet and with that dirty, musky tolu. It’s far from my personal cup of tea, which is unfortunate as that dark, earthy, brown dirtiness becomes a fundamental aspect of the dominant balsams on my skin. Custardy vanilla? No longer. No real vanilla of any kind on my skin, actually.

Source:  dianafabrics.com

Source: dianafabrics.com

Vanille Botanique soon turns into a blur of dark sweetness dominated by the tolu balsam’s leathered, musky, rather dirty facets. At the start of the 6th hour, the perfume feels like it’s almost all gone from my skin except for a pungent, resinous, half-sweetened smokiness, but Vanille Botanique clings on tenacious. For hours. And hours. Finally, 12.5 hours from the start, the fragrance dies away, smelling resinous to the very end.

My experience is quite different than that discussed in The Perfume Magazine‘s feature on Vanille Botanique. The very detailed review reads, in part:

Although there is citrus in the top notes, Vanille Botanique is introduced as a basalmic vanilla fragrance from the get-go. Red mandarin is the most apparent of the citrus essences, but not in a zesty or sparkling manner. Rather, it lends a light dimension to Vanille Botanique, alluding to the fact that this fragrance never becomes weighty or thick. Having said that, Vanille Botanique is most substantial in the opening which is redolent of an aged rum that has been distilled in wooden casks.

Vanilla courses through the boozy liquid but like Casmir and Spiritueuse Double Vanille it’s seamlessly blended so while there are caramel tones and hints of brown sugar, it is absent of a foody quality or saccharine sweetness. A peppery, nutmeg-like spiciness also helps temper the vanilla and move forward with the buoyant theme.

While it’s important to state what Vanille Botanique is, it might be even more important to mention what it is not. There’s no smoke, or incense, and yes there are woods and resins in the notes, but it is not a woody fragrance per se. By contrast, it is evocative of balsams that have infused the perfume as a whole[.]

Dark, sticky vanilla inside the pod. Photo: Vanillareview.com

Dark, sticky vanilla inside the pod. Photo: Vanillareview.com

The lovely Victoria at EauMG loves Vanille Botanique, calling it one of the most indulgent, decadent fragrances she’s experienced in the genre. Her review read, in part:

DSH Perfumes Vanille Botanique is the most decadent vanilla themed perfume that has ever touched my skin. It’s so rich and luxurious that I almost feel guilty wearing it because it’s one of the most self-indulgent, lavish perfumes ever created. And that’s why I love it.

Vanille Botanique smells so good the opening is a rich vanilla complimented by old-fashioned mosses and a hint of retro florals. But, trust me, this is all about the vanilla. The vanilla in this is sweet, balsamic, rich and palatial. There is a faint hint of citrus. The citrus isn’t fresh or glimmering. It’s more like an essential oil smothered by the balsamic richness of the vanilla bean. There is more to this fragrance than just vanilla, I can pick up on that. BUT I mainly get a rich, balsamic vanilla that is thick like syrup but not overly sweet. Actually, it reminds me of tolu balsam. So there is a hint of “amber” and benzoin in this balsamic glazed tobacco-like vanilla. It’s a linear scent like Guerlain Tonka Impériale. I don’t care if it’s linear because I smell good for 15+ hours wearing this lavish perfume. […][¶]

Give Vanille Botanique a try if you like rich, dense vanilla fragrances that do not smell like baked goods or synthetic. Give it a try if you like rich gourmands like Tom Ford Tobacco Vanille, L’Artisan Parfumeur Vanille Absolument, Guerlain Spiritueuse Double Vanille and/or other gourmands by DSH Perfumes. This scent is a unisex vanilla like the ones I listed above. This is not a “light” vanilla, it’s super dense so keep that in mind. This isn’t sheer; it’s syrupy. [Emphasis to names added by me.]

Source: sharefaith.com

Source: sharefaith.com

On Fragrantica, there are two reviews. The first talks about the labdanum aspect of Vanille Botanique, as well as the civet. Like Victoria at EauMG, “Sherapop” also finds a stylistic resemblance to L’Artisan‘s Vanille Absoluement, writing, in part:

DSH Vanille Botanique is a vanilla perfume for grown-ups. No sugar festival here whatsoever. Instead the scent is rather woody and oriental and barely sweet at all.

The labdanum is quite marked and there is some darkness imparted it appears by … civet! Well, this does not smell very animalic to me (maybe just a touch…), but it does smell very well blended and unisex. I find this just as well-blended as my favorite vanilla perfume, L’Artisan Parfumeur Vanille Absolument. This creation by DSH is akin to its savory analogue. [¶] Everything works together harmoniously in this composition, which I find to be a gorgeous wintertime perfume. [Emphasis to name added by me.]

The second review, however, is significant because it comes from someone who didn’t think the perfume lived up to the “vanilla” in its name and was a little disappointed:

The name…well a bit misleading. I would put vanilla way down towards the bottom of the list. This is all about the benzoin, labdanum & honey & a really unusual scent to me (maybe the civet). Oh, and I smell the rosewood, which I like. This is warm and honeyed but I’m not really sensing any florals. This is a very interesting perfume and I like that it is a bit different but unfortunately not what I was looking for.

I think her comment is extremely important because it highlights that Vanille Botanique is far from the conventional sort of vanilla fragrance. I disagree with a lot of the talk of vanilla in the other reviews because I think very dark balsams are the focal point of the scent. Ms. Hurwitz said as much to CaFleureBon, writing “I just love a good balsamic vanilla that is not really sweet but very, very rich and smooth.” I would add “very dark,” “musky,” and “smoky” to that list of adjectives as well.

In short, if you’re expecting a traditional, hyper-sweet, vanilla-centric scent, Vanille Botanique may disappoint you. This is not like some Victoria Secret or Mugler-style vanilla. It is a very dark, resinous interpretation of the genre that may be best suited to those who love amber and Tolu balsam in all its facets, including dark leatheriness and a treacly smokiness. Ideally, you should also enjoy a touch of muskiness as well. If drier vanillas on a deep, ambered base are your cup of tea, give Vanille Botanique a sniff.

Disclosure: Perfume samples were courtesy of DSH Perfumes. That did not impact this review, I do not do paid reviews, and my opinions are my own.

Cost & Availability: Bodhi Sativa and Vanille Botanique are offered in a variety of different concentrations and sizes. I tested the Eau de Parfum version of both. The two fragrances are available on the DSH Perfumes’ website. Bodhi Sativa is offered in: a 1 dram or 3.7 ml miniature-sized flask of Eau de Cologne for $18; a 10 ml EDC for $33; and a 1 oz/30 ml water-based concentrated spray for $58. The Pure Parfum Extrait version in an 5 ml antique bottle costs $105. Samples of the EDP are available at $5 for a 1/2 ml vial. Accompanying body lotions and creams are available as well. For Vanille Botanique, the pricing is as follows: 1 dram or 3.7 ml mini of EDP for $27; a 10 ml decant of EDP for $58.50; and a 1 oz bottle of water-based concentrated spray for $58. There are a ton of matching organic body creams, gels and massage lotions. In general, all orders over $10 will receive free samples of fragrances, with the number depending on the amount of your order. If you are outside the U.S., international shipping is available if you contact DSH Fragrances. As a side note, Vanille Botanique is also offered on Indiescents in the 30 ml EDP size for $135. Samples: in addition to the samples available on DSH perfumes, Surrender to Chance offers Bodhi Sativa starting at $3.99 for a 1/2 ml vial of EDP. Vanille Botanique is not available.

Review: Hermès Elixir de Merveilles Eau de Parfum

Heaven! I rarely have that reaction to new, mainstream or non-vintage perfumes, but this one is sheer heaven. Imagine slipping into a warm pool of creamy custard. As you slide in, you’re surrounded by what is initially a sharp burst of super bright, crisp, fresh orange before — mere seconds later — it turns into the darkness of bitter Seville orange. As you lie there, enveloped as if in a cocoon, sinuous fingers of the darkest, most bitter earthy chocolate wrap themselves like tendrils around your leg. It’s like a fin above the water, while below a huge black shark lies in wait. Patiently. For about 5 minutes. That big monster black is actually a dark, resinous patchouli and balsam wood. It lies in wait, until it slowly rises to the surface. And BITES you! That, my friends, is Hermès Elixir de MerveillesIMAG0032

The “Elixir” (as I shall it from now on) was created in 2006 by the legendary nose, Jean Claude Ellena, and comes in a lovely orange bottle splattered with gold at the top and leaning partially on its side, off-kilter. It is an Oriental Fougère, according to Fragrantica, which essentially means that it has oriental notes mixed with woody ones. The notes are: peru balsam, vanilla sugar, amber, sandalwood, tonka bean, patchouli, siam resin, caramel, oak, incense, orange peel and cedar.

The key notes that you need to really pay attention to at first are the Peru Balsam, the Siam Resin, and the Patchouli, though the cedar and oak become significant later. Now, from my reading of Fragantica’s explanation, peru balsam is a type of wood whose essence has a cinnamon and vanilla smell. At the same time, it has a green olive base which exudes an earthier, as well as bitter, aroma. Resin is slightly different. From general reading, it seems resin is the dark, oozing secretions from a tree that differs from “balsam” mainly in terms of its form and method of preparation. Siam Resin is a type of dark, balsam-ic secretion from a particular type of tree in Thailand, and is supposed to be more smoky and dark than other types of resins. The thing is, both share some great similarities. Peru Balsam and Siam Resin both smell like sweet vanilla but Peru Balsam has a cinnamon aspect too, along with that earthy, bitter edge. In contrast, Siam Resin — which used to be burned as incense — is more smoky and woody. In short, Cinnamon Vanilla with bitter green earth -vs- Sweet Vanilla with smoky, incense and wood.

The reason why I’m emphasizing this at the start is to allay and offset any fears about that orange custard that I mentioned earlier. Yes, the Elixir has been compared to an orange-caramel smoothie but that is really the most superficial possible interpretation possible. Because that orange-caramel smoothie is just the initial tip of a very dark, smoky iceberg.

But let’s start at the beginning. The first sprays of the Elixir creates the most crisp, bright smell of pure orange imaginable. That lasts mere seconds before the orange turns very dark and bitter. Have you had true British marmalade made from real Seville oranges? Those are the oranges I smell at play here. Maybe 30 seconds in, there is an immediate transformation from oranges (of any variety, crisp or bitter) to a suddenly warm…. ooze. I say “ooze” because I’m not quite sure how to describe the warm, seeping, almost thick (but soft) feeling of molting caramel that has suddenly appeared. There is a touch of cinnamon, too.

That seems to be the opening salvo of the Peru Balsam but it’s not jarring. In fact, the perfume has suddenly mellowed into a very complex “whole” with layers and range but, yet, still a “whole,” if that makes sense.  It’s a full package where no-one thing perpetually dominates (except perhaps the bitter orange) and where you can smell numerous different notes all at the same time. And, yet, they blend together perfectly as one. Unctuous, creamy, rich and warm…. it’s like slipping into an enveloping custard bath.

At the same time, the Siam Resin is starting to make itself noticed. That custard bath has a vanilla element that is sweet, yes, but there is also smoke and incense. Smoky vanilla-orange with caramel and incense might lead you to say, “But…. that sounds so damn strange!” It also might lead you to think of food, especially when I mention one of the most obvious impressions from those opening notes: dark, black chocolate.

Yes, chocolate. My immediate first impression was Seville oranges coated in the richest but blackest, most bitter chocolate imaginable. And with a touch of salt on it too! (Do you see why I’m leading you into this very gently, Oh Reader who may hate food scents?)

Don’t worry, this is NOT a food perfume and most definitely not a dessert one. There are chocolate perfumes out there, but this is not one of them simply because of those notes which I said were so key earlier: the Resin, Patchouli, Oak and Cedar. In fact, there is absolutely NO chocolate in the Elixir! What you’re smelling is the Patchouli, a dark, bitter, dirty 70s-kind of patchouli in the best way possible. It’s not a modern patchouli because it has a bite to it. It has a definite kick, like that black shark lurking under the water.

The dirty, earthy patchouli gives this an edge, but it is really anchored in those underlying wood notes which bring an earthy, masculine, woody foundation to the whole perfume. Strong oak, aromatic cedar and the earthy, almost pine tree-like bitterness of the balsam tree make this a scent that is definitely not foody. Plus, it has that Hermès signature in its final stages that is dry. “Dry” in the sense that it’s not sweet, moist, crisp but… dry. It’s almost hard to explain. I’ve heard it time and time again about Hermès fragrances and, after having gone back to smell all mine (as well as my father’s colognes), I can definitely agree. But it’s a bit like Porn as defined by one of the Supreme Court Justices: you may not be able to explain what it is, but you know it when you see it.

The famous perfume reviewer, Luca Turin, supposedly called the Elixir “bon chic, bon genre” and said that its dry-down was “enchanting.” (See a comment from “Lisa.M.Kasper” on Fragrantica, here.) (I don’t have his book, so I’m taking her word for it.) She agrees with Turin, as do I. It absolutely is “bon chic, bon genre” which is a French phrase to describe someone in the “now,” who is chic, stylish and hip. And, yes, the dry-down absolutely is enchanting. It’s all majestic, big, dark bitter tree (almost like a pine tree at times), mixed with peppery incense, smoke, sweetness and spice and just a remaining hint of orange wrapped in dark chocolate.  It’s so unusual that it’s just… baffling…. at times.

If Hermès’ 24 Faubourg was Princess Diana’s signature scent, then this belongs to someone else. I’m tempted to say Audrey Hepburn: sophisticated under a sweet, gamine appearance but not a child. Warm and sexy, but not overtly sexy like Brigitte Bardot. Casual in appearance (no Princess Diana tiaras and dresses here) but always stylish. And with a definitely aloof side under that initial impression of warm approachability.

The Elixir has been called “bi-polar” and I think that is a perfect description for it. It really is bi-polar. How else to explain these enormous extremes? It has also been called extremely masculine. To the point that there are a lot of complaints on Fragrantica, wishing they could like this scent but it’s so masculine. I don’t know when woody or spicy scents became masculine but I don’t consider this one. Nor, for that matter, do I consider it feminine. It is most definitely unisex, and the failure to label it as such is nothing more than a huge mistake in my opinion! I have to wonder if those who find it so masculine went into it expecting an orange dessert or a fruit cocktail scent. If so, then yes, by their standards, I suppose that green pine tree and cedar make it “masculine”. (If you could only hear my audible sniff at that.)

I should confess that I have a terrible weakness for almost all Hermès fragrances (mens, womens, dogs and horses…. no, I kid. Only the men’s and women’s fragrances), but not all Hermès scents make me whimper and moan as I sniff my arm. 24 Faubourg definitely does. And Parfum d’Hermès used to be one of my signature fragrances, though I have not smelled it as its re-named persona, Rouge d’Hermes. But I dislike Caleche from my childhood memories of it and most definitely have not liked most of the Merveilles flankers. The Merveilles line consists of Eau de Merveilles, the original one from 2004, then the Elixir in 2006, followed by Eau Claire and, recently, the very latest, Ambres de Merveilles.

There is a lot of talk about the Elixir versus the original Eau version. I’ve smelled the latter, but I wasn’t particularly impressed. It’s pleasant and nice, but it would hardly drive me to buy a whole bottle. I smelled the Elixir, and promptly went out and did just that. It has a WOW and a POW that, to me, the Eau version does not. The Eau is fresh, airy, clean and zesty. It’s subtle, less warm, and perhaps more demure. I haven’t tested out the Eau beyond some cursory sniffs and sprays, so I can’t speak as to its dry-down or process of development, but I hear that the Elixir and the Eau become very similar towards the end. And it is said that the Eau also has that typically dry Hermès signature at the end as well.

I don’t think the Elixir is for everyone. If your preference is for light, crisp scents, for florals, or for fresh, natural, understated and unobtrusive scents, then I think you will find the Elixir to be overwhelming and you should stay away. Those of you who fear fruity smells and how they may turn on you, I think you should give this a test run. Because it’s not a true fruit cocktail perfume by any means; that strong woody, resinous foundation forbids it! But for those of you who want to feel like Audrey Hepburn, in her capris and ballet flats with an Hermès scarf wrapped around her, as she quietly strolls through a bookstore in autumnal Paris where the orange leaves have fallen all around and where there is a brisk smell of smoky winter in the air… then this is your fragrance.  Bon chic, bon genre indeed!

Other Details:
Longevity: ENORMOUS, even on me! I would say it lasts a good 8 hours on me. On someone else, probably 10-14 hrs.
Sillage:  Enormous at first but, on me, it becomes less noticeable about 3-4 hours in. On everyone else, I’d guess it would be pretty big.
Cost: $108 for a 1.6 oz bottle of Eau de Parfum (it does not come in Eau de Toilette); $149 for a 3.3 oz. bottle