Monday, October 27, 2008

Serge Lutens Borneo 1834

I don't know it would have made any difference to have Borneo 1834 as the first Serge Lutens I smelled when I was taking my first sniffs of the road less traveled. Maybe Borneo, with its camphorous opening blast and dusty dark patchouli might have scared me away. Or maybe not. I already had a strong enough aversion to the shower-fresh genre and a distinct preference for masculine fragrances, so maybe I would have fallen hopelessly in love even then.

As things stand, my first Serge was Un Bois Vanille and it taught me that not all vanillas were created equally. It was followed closely by Cedre (a subversive tuberose), Miel de Bois (I like funk) and Gris Clair (who knew my husband could smell like that?). All the above means that by the time I finally got to try Borneo, my nose has already seen a thing or two and I was ready to take on a scent that has been described on one of the boards as "chocolate covered mothballs". So I did, and loved every minute of it.

Now, Borneo is not an easy scent. Camphor is not necessarily what one thinks about as pretty, and the cocoa-patchouli is as far from Thierry Mugler's foul and fallen Angel as the Palais Royal is from a B&BW store at your local suburban mall. But the depth and development are rich and addictive, though not in a foody way, despite the bitter chocolate. It's not really of the "yummy" variety, probably because of the dry, dusty element. This is a warm, smoky scent, and on my skin there's a complexity not entirely expected from such straightforward two main notes. The spices rise and fall, the camphor fades into a minty accord, the chocolate maintains a dark, not-so-fresh quality and you half expect it to disintegrate into a musky-tonka cuddly thing, but it never does. This is what keeps Borneo unisex.

I don't think I've seen a comparison to Mazzolari's Lui, which is another big patch-spice combo. Cocoa isn't listed among Lui's notes, but I get quite bit of it (also in the feminine version, Lei). Lui has an ambery sweetness, and gets its warmth from sandalwood and vetiver. It might be easier to wear for some, because it lacks the weird opening, but others would find Borneo more understated and elegant. I adore both.

On my skin, Borneo has a moderate sillage (a bit more when sprayed) and a good staying power (8 hours, easily). I wore it occasionally in tiny amounts during the summer, but it's much more suited for cold weather as it can be applied liberally (read: sprayed with abandon if I'm in the right frame of mind and not planning on entering a public elevator). The residue on my shawls and scarves is heavenly. When the weather is right, the scent is perfectly acceptable for daytime wear, but I'd be a bit wary of exposing innocent souls to the top notes. If I were a man, I'd wear it on a first date and expect swooning, but I'm not sure I can recommend the same for the ladies, probably because it makes quite a statement. Would I wear it for the third date? Not sure. Isn't that what Shalimar was made for? But I'd be overjoyed if my date would go with Borneo for the occasion.

Borneo 1834 is part of the non-export line (I bought my bell jar at the Palais Royal), but starting this week it's available as a limited edition from most of the usual suspects in the regular rectangular bottles. It's already at Barneys NY (they haven't updated the ridiculous website, though, so you'll need to call), and according to the SA at Bergdorf, they'll have it in a couple of days.

Image by Pamela Sukhum from Vinings Gallery


  1. I find Borneo rather difficult to I going to buy it though? Damn right I am! Liquid art.

  2. I love this one in small amounts in cold weather. But I think I might have to supplant my bell jar with a spray bottle for evenings alone of monster spritzing..

  3. Dane, I get why Borneo can be difficult. I love it, but I do wonder what others who aren't into fragrance think if they get a whiff. It's art, that's for sure.
    Have you tried any of the Mazzolari ones?

  4. Tom, the other night Ori and I both wore it and went out to the city. We got high on the fumes in the car...

  5. It smells great, I love it.

  6. I'm wondering if I should blind buy it. I can't find a tester or sample in my country but I found a bottle of it at a price I can't refuse. I already bought Chergui and Douce Amere because I was able to test them.

  7. I just bought a sample! *off to test*


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