Friday, January 04, 2008

The Lost Perfumes: Kenzo Jungle L'Elephant and Le Tigre

This review takes us back to a time when mainstream perfumes still could have an edge that wouldn't pass a focus group's approval. Back then you could fine some weird juice even on Sephora's shelves, and know that it wasn't created with the thought of outselling Pink Sugar. The old days I'm talking about are the mid-late 90s. Can you believe it?

Fashion designer Kenzo Takada launched his first perfume (Kenzo de Kenzo) in 1988. He sold the house carrying his name to LVMH in 1993 but stayed there until 1999 (where have we heard this story before?). You're free to make the correlation between the scents coming from this house and the timeline.

The Jungle perfumes for women, L'Elephant and Le Tigre, were created in 1996 and 1997. The former is still in production and is even offered in a lotion and deodorant, but no longer sold officially in the US (some etailers still have it in stock, but the prices are creeping up). Le Tigre confirmed as discontinued, which is a bit surprising considering it's the more conventional of the two.

Months ago, March from Perfume Posse wrote a mini review of L'Elephant that caused several people to buy unsniffed. If I remember correctly, not everyone has ended up with their vanilla holy grail, because it's hard to be prepared for the stuff that comes out of the pretty bottle. You've smelled spices, vanilla and patchouli before, but this composition is so strong and unique that no matter how much I'm going to warn you here, it'll surprise you.

You spray, and the first thing you notice is that you didn't have to spray that much. It's very strong. The innocent mandarine part in the opening is a blink-and-miss. It's almost instantly replaced by a creamy vanilla and spice cloud. It's sweet, dark and Licoricey and feels like you're wearing a concentrated and maybe not so fresh chai. When I overspray the heliotrope becomes more dominant and makes the scent feel dusty. Supposedly, there's also mango somewhere in the middle notes, but, thankfully, my nose skips it. I guess it's supposed to add some Indian dessert vibe, but the chai is more than enough as far as I'm concerned. While it does somewhat settles into an ambery vanilla patchouli base that is a little less sweet and actually feels woody (the dusty element doesn't go away), the clove and cardamon tend to reappear and hit you unexpectedly. Have I mentioned how strong and long-lasting this elephant is?

It's also fascinating, oddly comforting and has gorgeous moments. I'm just not sure I'm brave enough to wear it in public.

Official Notes (verified through the Kenzo site):

Top note :
Mandarin, Cardamom, Cumin, Clove
Middle note :
Ylang-Ylang, Licorice, Mango, Heliotrope
Base note :
Patchouli, Vanilla, Amber, Cashmeran (an animalic amber)

Compared to the uncivilized Elephant, Le Tigre starts out very conventionally. A sweet citrus blast in all the fruity glory, but with something sharp and edgy (probably the grassy Davana) that makes it different from Fendi Theorema (and not as pretty). It remains fruity-floral for quite a while, until the cinnamon shows its face and saves the day. Sweet orange and cinnamon are quite irresistible, though had it been up to me, I'd make it much spicier. As a matter of fact, some of the elephant's cardamon could have made this perfume a lot more interesting. The dry-down is utterly gorgeous, though, with its Massoïa wood and a hint of sweet vanilla.

Notes from OsMoz:

Top note :
Bergamot, Kumquat, Davana
Middle note :
Osmanthus, Ylang-Ylang
Base note :
Massoïa wood, Cinnamon

The bottles are beautiful. Both the tiger and the elephant on the cap make me wish they were detachable so I could wear them as a pendant or a brooch.

Kenzo ads:


  1. I found a sample of Jungle L'Elephant on scentedmonkey not long after March's post, and I fell in love! I've since obtained a sizey decant. On me, I get coconut along with the spices, which on paper sounds horrifying. The thing I love, though, is how the scent morphs continually while I'm wearing it. The transitions through the desserts, spices & woods and back again is fun, delicious and gorgeous. L'Elephant is not for every day; it's big and demands too much attention, but I love it when I'm in the mood. I'll probably wear it today, in fact :)

  2. Oh My Lord, this stuff is something else! I won't say what :) I am one of the fools to buy it unsniffed and now I'm not sure what to do with it. I was talking about this just the other day on MUA trying to decide between keeping it for the lovely bottle or swapping it to ensure that I never forgot and put it on my skin again! For some reason, the drydown never comes on me (L'Elephant) and all I get is hours of that overwhelming spice cloud. It's really pretty horrific on me unfortunately...

  3. Gaia, your review of L'elephant is spot on! I adore it, but it's a big freakin' animal and it can get out of hand on me very quickly. It smells absolutely marvelous on my husband - all the sweet notes seem to come out on him and all the spicy ones come out on me. I've never understood why Michael Edwards classifies it as a "soft oriental." There's really nothing soft about it, from my experience.

  4. Anita- I'm glad that you like it and agree with your description. It's big and doesn't stop changing and demanding to be noticed, but it's also a lot of fun.

    Gail- I'm sorry it doesn't work for you. I'd hang to the bottle for another year or two, and if it doesn't learn how to play with your chemistry you'll probably be able to eBay it for a significant price.

    Heather- "Soft Oriental"? Seriously? I wonder if he actually smelled it.
    Now I'll have to trick my husband into letting me spray him with it. I wonder what will happen...

  5. kenzo tiger is still sold in europe but as a men's offering, i believe...elephant chokes me but i admire it!

  6. Great to hear somebody still remembers le tigre. I was 16 when it came to market. Tigre has been my only fragnance ever since. I'm from small town in Finland , and one fragnance store had stocked tigre,so until this Christmas i had a stable supply. When I visited the shop in Dec, somebody had bought rest of the perfumes. I mananged to by the 50 ml tester bottle. But that is all. Have absolutely no idea, what to do next. Any suggestion on where to order or perhaps some tips on other good fragnances?

  7. Anon- I'm glad to hear Le Tigre can still be found here and there. There was also a Kenzo Jungle for men, which I'm not sure is still in production. Can be searched on the Kenzo web site.

    Mintti- You can search online and see if any of the discounters still has a few bottles in stock. That's how I got mine, but it was last summer, so not sure how if it's available now.
    There are many great perfumes from many houses, big and small, and you'll have to order samples and sniff as much as you can. I'm pretty sure that you would have loved Fendi Theorema with its orangey goodness. Unfortunately it's another fallen perfume and bottles are becoming rare.
    Look for perfumes with citrus fruit notes as well as cinnamon.

  8. hmm, i think you are right - it's the men's Tiger I've seen. Shoot, can't get too excited about that now. Though the cap is topped with faux "zebra fur" which looks pretty cute.

  9. First of all that review was awesome, everything that needed to be, was stated clearly and really well. Yesss, L'Elephant is verrrry wild, very strong and unique. Me? I love it, I spray it, I wear it and enjoy it! You gotta have some guts to wear it, but if You don't - You might as well call Yourself a looser not to even give it a try! That fragrance really does smell like the jungle. However, there is a nice alternative for all of the loosers afraid to put some jungle on. It's name is even wilder, but the fragrance itself is softer. The name is Le Tigre, and it's a beautiful oriental composition. Starts with that mandarine and orange that only Kenzo does so yummmiiiii... No other perfumers make those citrus fruits smell so good, with a hit of spiciness and a depth, only Kenzo. It dries down smoothly into a cinnamon base. Now one more, thing: when I was shopping on Ebay I did see L'Elephant brooches! They sold them on Ebay, one was going for 19.95 another seller wanted us to splurge 29.95... They were gourgeous and it said limited edition too! Check it out!

  10. I graduated from L'Instant (a Guerlain perfume) to Jungle on my 25th birthday. When I wore it to class one morning (when sick with the flu and in need of perfume cheer), the people sitting in my vicinity asked: "what's that funny smell?" Lesson learned -- it's not a day fragrance. But at night, it has an almost mythical effect: it enchants some, it repels others; it's truly a signature. My clothes have come to be imbued with a slight warm "glow" of Kenzo Jungle, from spraying it on next to the clothes closet. It gets everywhere -- and I like it. But for sure, it takes chutzpah.

    Thanks for your well-written, evocative review.

  11. Just found this post whilst searching for prices for Elephant. It was my one and only scent bought just before I got married about 14 years ago - used sparingly I'm just coming to the end of the bottle and still as much in love with it today as I was then.

  12. i fell in love with jungle l elephant buy Kenzo . i bought a bottle on overstock on line ,but it smells like alcohol .has anyone had the same funny smell. it always sent shivers up my spine ,very sexy ,now i feel like just had a drink at a bar ,bummer jo

  13. Hello !!

    Excellent article !!
    I'm French and I was searching fr a website where I could find The Tiger one. I'm hopeless ... in France this perfume does not exist any more. Have you an idea of a secure website ? I would like to buy it online ... even if I usually prefer real corner.

    Thank you !!

    Go ahead !! Your website is great !!!

  14. G'day.
    Great article! I bought the "Tigre balm". It's literally a "deep heat" / tiger balm for aches and pains but with the gorgeous smell of Le Tigre. I'm almost out and frantically trying to get a hold of some.Does anyone know where I could get some or if anyone might have some at the back of their cupboard they'd be willing to sell me...?...?...?


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