One Thousand Scents

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Heavenly: Byblos Cielo

Buying something unsniffed is not generally a good idea. There are just too many unlikable scents out there, and you have only so much money to spend. But if you find a something that costs only a few dollars, well, why not? Maybe you'll hate it, but you can always give it away or swap it for something you'll like better. And maybe, just maybe, you'll love it, and you win not once but twice: you add a great new scent to your collection, and you have the satisfaction of knowing that hardly cost you anything.

The local hyperdrugstore always has a bunch of fragrances on clearance. I don't know where they come from, but most of them aren't junk, just scents that didn't do so well or have to be cleared away to make room for new stuff. A few months ago, I bought a whole bunch of them: a set of Shalimar EDP and body lotion; an Azzarro Homme set with EDT, shaving balm, and a deodorant which it later turned out had completely evaporated except for a withered husk like one of those solid air fresheners; and a Dolce and Gabbana set of EDT, shower gel, and shaving balm. Those sets were less than $10 each, and I knew I liked them already, so that was a no-lose proposition. I also got two Byblos scents which I'd never even heard of, but I figured at less than $5 each, I can't really go too far afield. (I liked the original Byblos Uomo and loved the women's Byblos, which has a pronounced raspberry note among the subdued flowers, so I figured there was a pretty good chance I'd like at least one of these.)

In 1997, Byblos launched what we can think of, I guess, as a trilogy: Earth, Sea, and Sky, or in Italian, Terra, Mare, and Cielo. In 1998, they threw two more into the pile: Ghiaccio and Fuoco, or Ice and Fire. And finally in 2000, they released Brezza and Uragano, or Breeze and Hurricane. I would love to have had a chance to try all seven (and I would probably have bought all seven if they'd been available at that price), but the ones I ended up with were Mare and Cielo.

Mare isn't a keeper, at least not for me. It's a wet, fresh floral, suggestive of such nineties perfumery as Estee Lauder Pleasures , Cahcarel's Eden, and L'Eau D'Issey (the high-water mark of such scents, no pun intended). There's nothing wrong with Mare, but it feels like a copy of a copy, and I don't like wet florals anyway.

Cielo, on the other hand, is a real surprise. It's not novel in any way; in fact, it's a sort of copy, or at least a reconsidering, of Angel. (That's no surprise, either. It was such an earth-shaking fragrance that everyone did a version of it.) The surprise is that it changes Angel in such a way--it turns it upside down!--that it's actually a better scent. (To recap: Angel is a decidedly loud and sweet scent composed of dewberry, vanilla, chocolate, honey, the cotton-candy scent of ethyl maltol, and caramel, with a strong, some would say strident, base of patchouli. I think it's beautiful: many disagree.)

Cielo starts off with a fresh burst of mandarin, allied with a dose of very clean patchouli, understated and charming. That's right: the patchouli appears at the very top of the scent, descends into the middle, and then disappears as the scent ages, and it's there, but never overexuberant or brutish. After a while, hints of flowers (absent from Angel) appear, but very subtly: a thread of gardenia, a strand of jasmine. These are accompanied by that patchouli, some soft spice notes, and an unexpected and beautiful hint of coconut (which brings to mind a much subtler version of some Comptoir Sud Pacifique scents).

When the base notes begin to appear, we finally experience the really sweet notes that are in Angel from the outset: vanilla, mostly, but also a sticky caramel scent (which may be at least partly from tonka bean) and some sugary musk. The scent is as durable as you'd hope an oriental might be: after eight hours or so, there's not much left except a wash of vanilla, but it's an exceptionally lovely vanilla, suggestive of particularly rich ice cream.

Cielo overall is sweet, but not chokingly so (it's not Pink Sugar), and if you're the kind of person who likes confectionery scents, gourmand orientals, then this is something worth trying. I can't help but think that if this scent hadn't been buried in an avalanche of other scents, if it had been packaged and marketed differently, it could have done very well. After all, Wish, Chopard's version of Angel, is still on the market.

The original bottles for the Byblos septet were made of heavy glass, enclosed in a rubbery sheath spangled with silver glitter. Mare's is light aquamarine: Cielo's is a darker sky blue. Instead of a cap, there's a substantial clip that keeps the sprayer from being accidentally pressed. (The original bottles were all 100 mL, about three and a third ounces. Later on, the scents were all repackaged in a much cheaper 120-mL bottle which looks like the ones you'd find wrapped around any old Calgon body spray.) The boxes are covered in a silvery holographic shattered-glass design.


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