Van Cleef & Arpels Bois Doré (2017) {Perfume Review & Musings}


Bois Doré eau de parfum is the latest addition to the Collection Extraordinaire by Van Cleef & Arpels and as such always interesting to take a sniff from to gauge what the advances of niche perfumery are, especially when the jus is signed by perfumer Fabrice Pellegrin. The name is intriguing as well, not giving away anything quite transparent about its personality. This could be a mythological incursion, a fairy tale - definitely not about cabinetmaking - too prosaic (but who knows?) cf. Coromandel by Chanel, which implicitly means there is a landscape motif)- or more simply a metaphor...

It turns out it's the latter, describing the process through which Pellegrin viewed his future vanillic woodsy composition, which to him he thought should be worked in such a manner as to suggest that the tonka was equivalent to a gold nugget. Tonka beans do look a bit like gold nuggets covered in brown mud in reality. In this case, the name "Bois d'Or" or "Graine d'or" would probably have been clearer in French to indicate the value orientation of this cedarwood + tonka accord. As it is, "Bois Doré" offers the advantage of sounding unclear enough to the modern ear - a medievist would think of the Légende dorée (Golden Legend ) by Jacques de Voragine for this meaning of value - as to merit a clarifying inhale from the bottle. It's a bit twisted, but it works as an efficacious marketing and psychological motivator.

So how does it smell like this "Bois Doré"? It smells like a composition intent on focusing on woods, woods, woods + tonka, tonka, tonka to the point of shutting out any florals, but not some softening influence from the balsams.

This may remind you, or not, of the effort put forward by perfumer Maurice Roucel with Musc Ravageur by Editions de Parfums (2006), which is a musk fragrance which was advertized at the time as not relying on any floral note to make the magic happen (but there was lavender, which tends to be classified as an aromatic note rather than a floral one - a cultural taxonomy really.) More seriously, it was a creative constraint which Roucel wanted for the jus - and it worked as far as good perfumery goes.

There is this floating idea that there is a trace of rose eo in every living and breathing perfume so that it may come alive truly and fully, benefiting from the rich olfactive vibrancy of the queen of flowers, so Musc Ravageur is one of those scents that explicitly doesn't want to rely on the rose trick - or the floral trick for that matter (but it does a bit nevertheless.)

The comparison between the two perfumes is further warranted by the fact that Bois Doré turns out to be quite the musky fragrance as well. In fact, the last word on this will be whispered by musk. The dying traces of the perfume are simply delicious and the most memorable of all the perfume drydowns you subjected yourself to on a certain day.

More Deets

The eau de parfum starts with a slightly boozy Tonka opening, while the Ambergris pierces through the jus from the get-go. Evident also are mineral notes of the contemporary mainstream coded variety rather than as subtle, real and flinty as in Terre d'Hermès.

The opacity of the jus is remarkable recalling another vanillic-woody fragrance, Un Bois Vanille by Serge Lutens - even the "woody-pastry" aspect that Lutens loved to underline first in Féminité du Bois with Pierre Bourdon and Christopher Sheldrake, and which he perceived immediately upon his arrival in Morocco after picking up a piece of cedarwood.

Subtle almondy and aqueous nuances develop thanks to the Tonka bean, which makes the fragrance be on trend as almondy notes have made a noted comeback in the last couple of years.

True, beyond the call of duty, to its niche aesthetics, the omposition is minimalist - economical of its effects. It's streamlined, ingredient-centered - rather than story-centered even within the composition. Nowadays niche perfumes do not feel obligated to systematically spit their ire on more Baroque leanings, but here the Baroque is only in the title name.

Lest the perfume be too dry and intellectual, a skin note was inserted to make the perfume dance a bit on skin, beyond a sense of control of ideas and concept. A third atmosphere emerges besides the woods and the balsams after a while, and it is the animalic one, with a dark musk adding depth to the perfume. It smells "dark" due to the vicinity of the other ingredients, but in reality they are billed as "white musks" and it is true that they smell clean, ambery, sweet and only subtly beastly.

Bois Doré can be seen in a way as an upscale reworking of some of the main nuances of the designer bestseller Paco Rabanne 1 Million. Thanks to its fairly austere character, it even feels like a study of it.

The differences are, if I spray, say, from a handy 1 Million Absolutely Gold, 1) less after-shave 2) more simplicity 3) franker yet restrained animalic character. Some might say, less bull, more essences. But actually, 1 Million Absolutely Gold offers a hazelnut finish which smells great.

Fragrance notes

Visual musings

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