How oxymoronic is it that it’s now trendy to smell unique? Truly, there are a finite amount of really wearable notes on a perfumer’s organ, so even for the scented thrill-seekers, after a while, the record does tend to skip a bit.
But what if you’re one of those thrill seekers that likes their scents to make a scene? One that values some flair and an artistic statement in your day? And what if you also happened to not be scared of things that are a little dirty sometimes?
Well, I scoured the darkest recesses of the perfume shelves for you, in order to grab 10 scents that don’t back away from the edges. I had 3 requirements:
- They had to make a statement
- They had to not already have a large buzz around them (see Secretions Magnifique)
- They still had to be wearable in daily life
It wasn’t easy. And I know, every time I picked one, I left 500 more out. If you’d like a sequel and/or some of your all-time filthy favorites got left behind, feel free to let me know in the comments.
Hopefully, you can find something here to sharpen your claws on…
Olympic Orchids: Sonnet XVII
Flowers are often exploited in perfumery for a certain shock value. Containing innumerable molecules, many are quite fecal, animal-like, and/or sharp. Some fragrances out there are so bold as to indeed heighten or focus these aspects, and it was incredibly common in the perfume days of old to do just this. Nowadays, more often than not, even when a fragrance again touches these waters, it does drift around the shallow end of them. If you’ve ever gotten your hands on any modern models of a filthy-floral fragrance, and found yourself still wanting, you might want to try and get your hands on this one.
Award-winning perfumer Ellen Covey turns up the dial to a degree rarely seen, even in the niche world, in order to represent Pablo Neruda’s famed sonnet of the same name. Simultaneously sweet and sunny, yet earthy and resinous, there’s an extremely dank, dark, unapologetic musky smut coiling across this perfume, like a faint smoke on water, that’s been described as everything from a petting zoo, to sewage, goats, manure, diapers, and utter beauty.
This fragrance is absolutely not for the weak hearted, but it’s truly a masterpiece of composition. Sonnet walks up to a line and crosses it with artistic precision. Covey has deftly walked a fine tightrope of sunny and serene floral, yet aggressively unapologetic animalism, with lush complexity on either side of the equation. The end result is being intoxicatingly pulled in opposing directions, and never allowed to venture too far into either, until you’re abruptly pulled back.
The projection on this is big, but it settles stunningly on skin. Appreciate it “as one loves certain dark things, secretly, between the shadow and the soul.”
Lisa Kirk: Revolution
What does revolution smell like?
New York avant-garde artist Lisa Kirk posed this very question to journalists, radicals, activists – the people who had been witness to actual revolution on the ground. The answers – tear gas, blood, sweat, urine, smoke, burnt rubber – became the note list for a conceptual art piece, a fragrance housed in limited edition gold, silver, and platinum pipe bomb replicas, and debuting in 2008. Ulrich Lang eventually worked with Kirk and perfumer Patricia Choux to release the fragrance to a wider audience in a 15 ml chemical vial reminiscent of a Molotov cocktail.
The note list is indeed shocking, so despite the mission statement for this article, can it actually be worn by normal human beings? Not only is my answer yes, but I did, myself, on multiple occasions.
It’s an extremely dirty, smoky, undeniably sweaty-cumin scent that seems to give off its very own heat and quietly trail you in its own foreboding cloud. Yet the whole experience is blended in a fantastically well-rounded way, with a very smart eye on the degree of its projection. While you are admittedly able to smell a replica of every offensive note listed above, the result ends up only slightly more shocking than a few quite well-received edgy, niche fragrances – a la some Beaufort London or D.S. & Durga selections.
On skin, and personalities, that wear animaliac and/or densely smoky fragrances well, this may be a welcome conversation piece for a collection, and definitely a very punk way to make a statement out of your day.
Skin-like. Animal. Dirty. Carnal. Sensual. You’ve heard these adjectives multiple times in your perfume journey, no doubt. However, this is the fragrance that most of the fragrances described this way are afraid to be. Some will be happy to know that there are still modern perfumes that dare to try and step up to the line of the great musks from the days of old.
Somehow, through an unassuming, simple-sounding note list (Pink peppercorn, cumin, incense, ylang, dune plants, castoreum, costus), what is released is a velvet, feral, sexual, sweaty redolence containing subtle phantoms of spice, and something dusty and ancient. And I cannot stress enough the feral, sexual, and sweaty. It’s beautifully off-putting, but narcotically enthralling. Even if you don’t want to sniff again, your body seems possessed, powerless to do anything but go back and get another hit.
Perfumes of this nature are an acquired taste for sure, and rarely this immodest, but for those searching for a black panther in the animaliac world of fragrances may find they stumbled upon the right beast.
The projection is skin-close, as it was created to represent the uniquely scented, sensual fingerprint that all our flesh carries, but it holds on tight with excellent longevity. Sniff and see if your eyes roll back in either, or both, pleasure and disgust.
Bogue Profumo: Douleur!
Is it ‘roided-up bubble gum? Is it burnt? Is it earthy? No. Green… No, wait…. Amber. No, wait. There’s metal. Something smells damp…
And this is just the first few minutes.
A completely unrestrained sweetness positively detonates out of the bottle and begins to swirl into an aurora borealis of scent effects that I’m not sure I’ve ever smelled inside the same family of droplets before. The sweetest of synthetic sweetness, mintiness that waltzes with a seaweed green, mineral, metallic twinkles, a floral that’s barely recognizable as ‘floral’, and resinous benzoin earthiness all run riot on a rooftop party that keeps you up all night.
Bogue’s Antonio Gardoni (in collaboration with tattoo artist Freddie Albrighton) has created a perfume that, while accused of assaulting the senses (‘douleur’ is French for ‘pain’), deserves immense praise for not only shoving immensely conflicting notes into one bottle, but creating an effect that seems to have thrown out all considerations of any type of olfactory pyramid, only to come away with something incredibly wearable.
This is big, this is drippingly sweet, this is confusing, this is uproarious art for your nose, and it’s gloriously hilarious.
Liquides Imaginaires: Peau De Bête
Whichever angle you take, whether in scent or composition, this is a very different and incredibly statement-driven perfume. While many fragrances have done their take on animaliac scents, from soft to the unabashedly aggressive, Liquides Imaginaires and perfumer Carine Bouin have little interest on making the concept easy to swallow.
First, there are no extraneous materials or top notes that lovingly take your hand and guide you through. The note list (Saffron, Cumin, Black Pepper, Cade, Guaiac, Atlas Cedar, Texan Cedar, Indonesian Patchouli, Indian Cypriol, Leather Accord, Styrax Resin, Flouve Absolute, Ambrarome Absolute, Castoreum, Civet, and Skatole) just reads like a who’s who of intense woody, leather, animal-skank base ingredients. And, indeed, this juice is noticeably absent any introduction.
The imagery of horses, saddles, open woods, and sweaty skin – regardless of horse or human, both are compared similarly here – seems to tell the story of the wild beast we all are. Filthy, sexual, dirty, sweaty, untamed despite our nice suits, and bound by skin that both draws and repulses, we’re more akin to the galloping, grunting, yet majestic, beasts than we are not.
As much as I’ve talked up the filth factor, this is truly a stunning fragrance. Soft, suede leathers and comforting forest woods wrap around what is unmistakable and deeply realistic skin with undertones of heat, deep human-spiced sweat, and gentle doses of animaliac notes that shift between pungent, floral musk, and flickerings of the gratifying impurity of a body unbridled.
On actual skin, the notes turn up to a 10 as it begins to intermingle with your own heat and particular skin scent, in essence, doubling the animalism. It wears very close, with quiet but confident sillage, and very much wraps you in a second skin that has no shame. As time wears on, this beast gets more and more comfortable in its skin, and the very basest of the base notes (which is about all this fragrance is composed of) start to make their way into the air as if to say “Sorry, not sorry.”
This is beautiful, calming, and arresting. It’s a spot-on reminder of our animal nature, that we are somehow less revolted by, and more drawn to, than we ever openly admit.
La Curie: Geist
Black Hemlock. Oakmoss. Chocolate. Leather. Manuscripts. Soil. Wet Cobblestones. Parchment ink.
The above reads less like a note list, and more like a dresser storage drawer for a ten-year-old that likes to go on nature hikes and steal things from his grandmother’s house. But it is indeed a perfume, created at the hands of Lesli Wood, for the express purpose of making extremely uncommon and complex scents. She absolutely succeeds.
Words fall woefully short in trying to describe this perfume. As incredibly disparate as all the elements of it might be, amazingly, you can wholly sense each one. Amelodic as the harmonies are, it comes off completely well rounded.
Soil and stone minerality shimmer throughout. Hemlock’s greenish mustiness pairs with wet, swampy oakmoss like a dank match made in heaven. There’s a camphorusness that seems to continually haunt it, even though there’s no specific element of this listed. Old dusty paper somewhere holds inky black sharpness yet to dry. There’s a gentle sweetness to the scent despite its earthiness, and a well-worn, soft leather saddle is draped over it all. Each element is allowed to sing on its own, but happily becomes part of the whole choir.
Earth-dirty, wet-green, dusty, and night-black with a teasing sweetness, this is a fragrance that will definitely confuse your senses. But with this, it keeps you coming back to be sure of what exactly you smelled.
This one is for the green and earth-lovers that get a kick walking around feeling witchy.
The Society of Scent: Asphalt Noir(e)
There are things in our world that many secretly love the odd smell of – gasoline, burnt rubber, sweat, plastic, sweet food-scrap garbage, Play-Doh… and asphalt. Each of these things I’ve been told directly from people that they love. If you must know, yours truly is the one obsessed with the smell of Play-Doh.
Whether it reminds you of the open road, summer sun, the old school playground, or a million other things, we are all so familiar with the smell of hot asphalt, we can probably recall it immediately. Perfumer thought we needed a comforting scent based around it.
This is surprisingly wearable and very well done, while staying true to the essence of the subject at hand. The first blast is a sunny, hot-smoky vapor that starts to calm to a warm, inky tar that’s not allowed too far off its leash, restrained by the floral hay of narcissus, and something a little animaliac, that’s hard to put your finger on. But it’s definitely there: a warm, purring musk, rather than the animal growls we’ve experienced elsewhere on this list. Resinous, ambery sweetness takes what could be an aggressive, hard to wear scent, and makes this dark and different perfume very easy to put on, and actually, fairly versatile.
While I was expecting something perhaps bolder, the virtuosity in being able to take an abrasive scent, keep it true, but unveil the comfort of it rather than the olfactory aggression it can usually display, is quite impressive. Be that as it may, this is still definitely not a scent your local Avon lady would wear.
Sillage is softer, closer to skin, and the heat that skin radiates makes the scene even more realistic.
Demeter Fragrance Library: Puppy’s Breath
Even for the likes of Demeter, a line known to be unafraid of extremely odd scent territory, this one turned some heads. According to Demeter, this took 20 years to perfect because it not only had to be good, but “mythical”, in order to do man’s best friend well-deserved justice.
Despite any eyebrow raises, this one is the most comforting, easily wearable, crowd-pleasing scent on the entire list. It’s soft, slightly sweet, fresh, oddly skin-warm, and pretty difficult not to smile at.
Completely absent any breathy must, or toilet water notes, this is more freshly-bathed puppy after a groomer visit, than any of the adorably mischievous dirt and filth our four-legged friends are known to get involved in. As fresh as it is, there is a warmth to it that’s difficult to point to – it’s not just a temperature descriptor, either. There is indeed a comforting, mythical warmth to it – your childhood blankey, fresh out of the dryer.
A cologne-type scent, the wear time is average for this family – an hour or two splash – but the price points with multiple sizes and variations almost make that a non-issue. Plus, to simply answer “Puppy’s Breath…” following the usual “What are you wearing?” would, itself, be priceless.
Folie á Plusieurs: As – Phyx – Ia
Folie á Plusieurs is an ultra-niche perfume company that attempts to meld all the separate worlds of art and carry them through the art of scent. Olfactory representations of movies, music, books, and concept pieces are all composed by some of the most edgy, hallowed names in the perfume world, and then placed into individually hand painted bottles. Each scent seems to live very much in its own world, with it’s own corresponding sounds, colors, images and feelings.
Personal accounts of specific erotic impulses and practices were taken for eighteen individuals. Each fragrance in the Olfactophilia project attempts to translate these impulses to people that may or may not engage in them.
Asphyxiaphilia is the sexual arousal triggered by a lack of oxygen to the brain, often by strangulation.
What starts out as a beautifully accomplished, equally floral and dusty violet begins to quickly transform, shifting the picture to the dusty white that one might find on latex gloves, and a latex accord appearing prominently. As this twist takes place, you get a distinct feeling of witnessing something you shouldn’t have walked into. But it’s too late. You can’t look away. The latex feel tingles at the back of your throat as you inhale.
As the dust settles, both literally and figuratively – the powder aspect also noticeably lessens from perception – a soft leather is unearthed, which after the jarring twist above, is actually calming. However, the powdered latex hasn’t completely faded, and the unnerving part is now how much you’ve relaxed into this scene unfolding.
One could argue it’s just simple mental priming for the emotional impact, but I’m not sure. A dusty floral with realistic latex and leather, just by scent alone is pretty jarring, but this is composed so flawlessly tangible on top of it. And somehow, it’s also gorgeously wearable – if you don’t mind some bite marks in your sillage.
The sueded cedarwood and oakmoss (and something faintly musky?) that the whole story decrescendos to feels like a much-needed release. This one is a climactic, edgy, and gloriously disarming ride.
Rundholz Parfums: 20 Mars 2022
From the moment you see the dense black-purple juice swimming in the long, narrow bottle that looks like it was stolen from a science lab aboard a spacecraft, you already get the sense you’re about to smell something a little otherworldly. This time, you can definitely trust your intuition.
The note list is beastly, seemingly comprised of every note used in perfumery, ever, and just a quick scan of it (included below) would make anyone wonder how any of this all fits together.
The scent moves fast, as if hurtling through space itself – an abrasive, tingling pepper note breezes though incense tendrils, only to bump against a colorful resinous aspect, before an interplay of the first two notes return back to the atmosphere. From here, as if headed into the Galactic Center of the Milky Way itself, each remaining note seems to sparkle and fade, twinkling and glowing in and out of perception. While incense, pepper, and resinousness do seem to be a constant anchor throughout, sometimes you’ll smell something fruity-sweet. The next moment, something grounded and hay-like. Woods? No, incense. Maybe both. Little tendrils of musky, animaliac notes undulate back and forth as the scent slides from woody, to sweet, to pepper, to back again.
This is the olfactory equivalent of being blasted into the perfumed universe at light speed and watching each constellation breeze past – it’s all so similar, but all glimmers different. And it somehow comes out oddly unified. This is a very strange, very well done, and to some, an overwhelming scent. Your senses can never seem to quite catch up to the thing that just changed. Or did it?
I can’t imagine how long it took to formulate this cacophony to behave together, but it’s certainly an accomplished piece, and definitely not made for the masses. Whether sitting in the bottle on your shelf, or radiating off your skin, this scent will definitely stand out for those that seek the things that do.
(Promised note list: Pink pepper, black pepper, saffron, lovage, cinnamon, strawberry, jasmine, lily of the valley, rose, frankincense, patchouli, vetiver, sandalwood, cedarwood, nagarmotha, hay, vanilla, Tonka bean, labdanum, musk, civet, ambergris, castoreum)
I encourage you to go play, explore, grab that crazy looking bottle, just put it on blindly, and see. Feel a little weird. Go be a beast, a space traveler, a dominatrix. For us perfumistas, Halloween can be every day. Bless.