One Thousand Scents

Friday, March 10, 2006

A Handful of Dust: Yves Rocher Cocoon

In the 1980s, an entirely new aesthetic came to the fore in perfumery: the linear fragrance. Most classically-constructed scents have a top note made of evanescent notes such as citrus, meant to last only minutes; a middle note of florals and aromatics which can remain for a few hours; and a long-lasting base note of heavy, slow-evaporating elements such as vanilla, sandalwood, and oakmoss. (Some of these notes, such as sandalwood and particularly ambergris, are so tenacious you can still smell them the next day.) A linear fragrance dispenses with the top notes entirely: the first thing you smell is what you're going to be smelling for quite a while. Linear scents got a bad reputation because when perfumers were dispensing with the top notes, they also eliminated subtlety: the infamous Giorgio Beverly Hills and Poison, ├╝ber-eighties scents, were exemplars of the linear style.

Yves Rocher's Cocoon is linear with a vengeance. The website lists the notes as "cocoa, vanilla, patchouli" (all heavy base notes) and in fact there's hardly anything else to the fragrance: some subtle, blurry spices and woods, but that's about it. No top notes and not really any middle notes, either, just a shot of cocoa and then a rapid dive for the depths of the base notes.

What makes it fascinating, and not just a copy of Angel or Comptoir Sud Pacifique's Amour de Cacao, is that the first thing you smell, that cocoa note, isn't a chocolate note: it's cocoa-powder, dry, dusty, slightly salty. It's exactly like opening a tin of Cadbury's, a startling revelation. The note gradually softens: the dust and the salt recede as the vanilla takes over, but the dry chocolatiness never vanishes entirely. Hours later, you can still smell Cocoon on your skin, and it still smells much as it did when you first put it on--slightly, but not significantly, altered.

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