One Thousand Scents

Friday, April 11, 2008

Live By The Sword: Caron Yatagan

When you have been wearing fragrances for a long time, and trying pretty much anything that gets waved under your nose, you start to see similarities between many of them, particularly since the sense of smell is rather mysterious and lacking a language into the bargain, so we almost always describe scents in terms of other ones. You might say that a fragrance smells like another with roses added or spices removed, or that it smells like a blend of two other scents you know, or that it's a sort of jigsaw-puzzle jumble of many other scents.

The first time I smelled Caron's Yatagan, the very first thought that popped into my head was, "I've never smelled this before, but I know it anyway." Immediately afterwards, I thought, "And it's dirty!" Dirty in the best possible way: exciting, sexy, a little shameful, and abrim with possibilities.


Yatagan--it takes its name from this curved Turkish sabre--calls to mind the carnality of Tabu, the uncompromising tough-guy stance of Krizia Uomo, the herbal bitterness of Bel Ami and Coriolan, the piney outdoorsiness of Winter Delice, and easily a half-dozen other scents. But it's still its own beast.

Caron's own website calls it an oriental chypre, and although I can see the point--the base is laden with patchouli and a little oakmoss--it doesn't read like a chypre to me. If they hadn't told me, I never would have thought of it in those terms. It seems to me more like a roughhousing, thoroughly masculine oriental scent.

The opening is a bright, sharp bolt of herbs and leaves, underscored by the first signs of that wonderful filthiness--castoreum and patchouli. Patchouli is not usually my friend: I prefer the new, chemically cleaned-up version to the old-school hippie patchouli, which generally smells dirty (the bad kind of dirty--unwashed and nauseating) on me. Yatagan is suffused with this old patchouli, and yet alchemically it works, which surprises and delights me. As I noted when talking about Michael for Men and Chanel Antaeus, sometimes the fusion of leather and patchouli seems to take the curse off it.

The middle of the scent is wonderfully bitter, swirling with artemesia, wormwood, and still more herbs. (This is not something, I think, that you would want to wear just before heading out to the office, or to a civilized dinner.)

What's most amazing about Yatagan is how gentle it becomes in the drydown, about two hours later. The edges have been smoothed away with balsamic labdanum and styrax; it relaxes. All the aggressiveness just dies away: the fighting is over, and what remains is gentle and masculine, a leather pillow stuffed with aged patchouli and wood shavings.

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