One Thousand Scents

Friday, October 14, 2011

Old-Style: Bois 1920 Sutra Ylang

Let's start with names. Apparently, Bois 1920 has nothing to do with wood ("bois" is the French word for wood), but instead is an acronym referring to creator Enzo Galardi's grandfather Guido, who opened a perfumery in Italy in 1920 called Bottega Italiana Spigo, "Italian Lavender Boutique". Sutra Ylang seems designed to make us think of, well, what exactly? "Sutra" is a Sanskrit word from India which brings to mind for most North Americans the Kama Sutra, which is not exactly the sex manual that most of us seem to think but more of a guide to sensual living; the word "sutra" more or less means "aphorism", but it literally means something like "connecting thread" and is the ancestor of the word "suture", a thread used to sew things together. "Ylang" is a Tagalog word from the Philippines which most of us known as "ylang-ylang" and is generally accepted to mean "flower of flowers", although the word "ylang" itself apparently means either "wilderness" or "rare", depending on which etymology you believe.

India and the Philippines are a few thousand miles apart and neither is really the home of what Westerners think of as oriental perfumery, so I assume that Bois 1920 was going for some sort of generalized and far-flung orientalia or at least Asiatica in the name of their scent, and they succeeded. Sutra Ylang is a somewhat scaled-down version of a big ambery eighties-style floral oriental, and thank god for that, because there aren't nearly enough of them around, the market having been crowded with disgusting perfumes that smell like decomposing fruit salad or floor cleaner or automotive air freshener. A blissful shot of crisp fresh citrus in the opening stages; a rich carnation-rose middle; a big chunk of sandalwood and cedar; all tied together with tons of amber, which manages not to be cloying as it was in their Real Patchouly.

The bottle, of course, is gorgeous, and you men may safely ignore the apparent pinkishness of the box, because there is nothing girly about Sutra Ylang: there have been plenty of warm sweet men's scents over the years, and this one, with its woody-amber base, fits right in. Bois 1920 considered their first eight scents to be unisex (they later launched some scents aimed specifically at women, in extremely pinkified versions of their house bottle), and there's no reason on Earth a man couldn't wear this.

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