Mastic, or pistacia lentiscus, is a rare ingredient in perfumery, particularly as the most prominent note in a fragrance. A bitter green resin, which forms from the ‘tears’ of liquid mastic when the trees are lacerated (on the Greek island of Chios, the only place the gum is produced), it was used as a remedy for snakebite in ancient Greece and regularly employed as an incense. Legend has it that as St Isodorus cried out in pain during his martyrdom, God blessed the mastic tree, which then began to cry……


Such lachrymosal stories are the foundation of Eau d’Ikar, a spiky, sapful scent based on green notes, resins and florals, agreeably poetic in concept and execution, but which I don’t find entirely works. The perfume is described by the company as happy and revitalizing, and while it is certainly stimulating, and very green – almost startlingly so – I can’t think of it as happy.











In fact, given that the scent, and even the bottle (in very eighties frosted glass, reminiscent of Cerruti 1881 and Paloma Picasso’s similarly themed Minotaure) is based on the tragic tale of a quixotic, restless young naïve (Icarus), who is burnt by the sun and drowned by the sea, it is not surprising that the overall impression is morose. 



Some reviewers have compared Eau d’Ikar to several classical citruses such as Dior’s Eau Sauvage or Eau d’Orange Verte d’Hermès, but what immediately struck me on spraying this refreshingly unclichéd masculine was its curious resemblance to Estée Lauder’s wonderful Private Collection, that beautifully supercilious seventies’ green-powdery with its arch, manicured talons; its diffidence, and impactful emotionality. The perfumes share a number of notes: galbanum, and bright citruses such as bergamot; florals in the heart of iris and jasmine, and the ambered woodiness of the base. But where Private Collection achieves compositional perfection (too much so, almost – the only complaint I have about the fragrances the company produces is their olfactory equivalent to a flawless, patina of exquisite make-up that leaves little room to breathe), Eau d’Ikar, with its rough hewn maleness, has a strange impetuousness – the sense that things are not quite sewn together.



On the skin, the two in the later stages become at times almost indistinguishable. But where Private Collection has a much more natural balance, the chakras passing right through uninhibited from base to tip, Ikar is clogged up with mastic: feathers and wood bound together with wax, sweat, and honey.




The scent comes on forceful and green, with a waxen smell you could almost rub between your fingers: mastic, tea, bergamot, carrot seed, lemon, extract of reed, and a sour, fruity smell like just picked blackcurrants that contorts the mouth – the hard, white eye of youthful determination – as Icarus and his father Daedalus strive to escape from the labyrinth and the minotaur. At this stage, the scent is difficult to like, yet alone love, with its sense in the stomach that something is not quite right. And yet this resinousness is bright and intriguing, like a flash of sparkling clarity on the blue Aegean that beckons from the sunbaked rocks.

















Half an hour or so later, the perfume suddenly blooms; takes flight; when it becomes a quite haunting, powdered floral, quite beautiful and androgynous, with a sun starched, drier quality of vetiver and ambergris underneath and the resinous note of mastic lingering throughout. The Hellenic feel is authentic here, and Sisley do achieve something akin to impressive olfactory prose.  Still, I am not sure whether or not I would buy Eau d’Ikar (though I have considered it as a potential summer scent – there is something in the blend that pulls me in, some masochistic pleasure, even, in that bitter unpleasantness). What I do like about it though is the shimmer of shadows, the naturalness of the ingredients, the sense of erect integrity.




But it also has a thickness, an airlessness I am uncomfortable with: a suffocating dryness within its chlorophyll that encapsulates (if you really will yourself into the myth) the burned locks and parched lips of the dying ephebe: the shuddering of feathers; his sundazzled death chute as he falls, senseless, into the glittering Icarian sea.












Filed under Green, Masculines, Mastic, Perfume Reviews

27 responses to “TRAGIC ANDROGYNE: EAU D’IKAR by SISLEY (2011)

  1. Helen

    Wow!! I couldn’t be more intrigued. I have a hankering for the resinous, sap-full scent and yet wear perfumes more akin to the second stage you describe. I have a loathing for that suffocating, locked-in feeling you can get from a scent and yet for me I associate this more with a hot, spicy, headache inducing concoction. Maybe I will love this. or maybe not. must investigate.

  2. My appreciation of this is a polar opposite. I think it is the most anticlimactic fragrance I have smelt in years. Being Greek the smell of mastic is something I have grown up with and I can tell you that what I smell is the green, fresh mastic leaves. I do not get a lot of mastic tears. Voyage d’Hermes on the other hand has a lot of this as well as Ca’ Luna from Acqua di Biela. I love the opening because it is bitter, green and smells a little like green beans. But it only lasts a little and after this what I get is quite nice but I miss the originality of the opening.

  3. ginzaintherain

    I defer to a Greek person as I have had very little exposure to mastic! As you can tell from my review though, I don’t really like the scent all that much, just parts of it. And I agree, that if it took twenty years for the company to make this, it is most definitely an anticlimax.
    Have you ever been to Chios by the way? I would love to.

  4. RVB

    I think you’ve nailed it perfectly.I tried Eau d’Ikar a few months ago and had a similar experience.I found the opening acerbically herbal with a clotted like dryness.This thickness persisted for awhile and seemed to smell more of an ancient unguent or embalming resin.Once the florals kicked in,like you I began to appreciate the scent more as they added a soft gauzy backdrop to the oppressive dryness of the top notes.Still I found it unique among
    the bleary miasma of modern masculines.Another perfume with an interesting use of mastic is Aesop’s “Mystra”,composed solely of mastic,frankincense,and labdanum.THAT smells like an ancient unguent.As always thanks for your gorgeous and evocative review.You have me pining now for the sunburnt hills of Greece and deep blue of the Aegean sea!(which coincidentally make me think of Lutens Filles en Aguilles…)

    • ‘Clotted dryness’ is a brilliant way of putting it. I am glad I wasn’t the only one who thought it was ABSOLUTELY NOTHING WHATSOEVER like Eau Sauvage, but rather a peculiar amalgam of greens that is still somehow strangely likable….

  5. A perfume that starts out “resinous and sap filled”, “blooms and takes flight” only to end with “a thickness, airlessness and suffocating dryness” sounds like something I need to experience. Your writing shudders and quakes my world. Speaking of erect integrity, I made a gorgeous tincture of Chios mastic tears that I’d be happy to send your way. Thanks for setting the tone for my day.

  6. Lilybelle

    Oooh my! What a story, and what a story teller you are! The ancient Greek tales never fail to affect me on a profound and basic level. I can just smell the wax and feathers and honey and sweat, feel the sun blindness. If I ever run into Eau d’Ikar I will certainly remember your words while I sample it. Bravo, Black Narcissus! 🙂

    • Thank you, but as usual I wonder if in getting carried away with the ‘story’ of the perfume I have overegged the pudding and made people crave a perfume which is (as I hope I expressed) not entirely successful.

      However, it did kind of fascinate me, this scent I must say..

      • All the world’s great literature is about people who are “not entirely successful!” I can read about Emma Bovary without loving or even liking her, and I can delight in reading about perfumes that don’t quite work without wanting to buy and wear them. The interesting thing is why they don’t quite work, and you are so good at writing about that, and also about why they may be interesting, even fascinating, in their dysfunction.

      • Arigato. I remember in this review’s case, I gave the scent a lot of time, and was wearing it one warm day while playing the piano, and then whenever anything surfaced in my mind I would stop and write it down in a note book. There were things I liked about it, but others that I found very difficult indeed. But as you say, these not quite perfect blends can still have interest and integrity.

        I am going into Yokohama again later. I might try it again…

      • Lilybelle

        No, I took note of the “something here is not quite right” part. You made it quite clear.

  7. brie

    What? a natural perfume ingredient that I have never heard of? this must be rectified!
    Oh and I loved Cerruti 1881…still have the empty bottle from 25 years ago hidden in my basement!

  8. Tara C

    Never smelled Eau d’Ikar, but recently purchased Parfum d’Empire Corsica Furiosa, which is very green and herbal. It’s still winter here but some day it will be warm enough to wear it…

    • I have heard about that perfume but don’t think I ever got to smell it. It was fantastic wearing Eau D’Ikar the other day – that marvellous feeling when you get precisely the correct perfume to correspond with your day. Really velvety and indeed, somewhat morose, but also green and tight. I kind of love it, actually.

  9. Robin

    I like it when you overegg a fragrance description. It makes for real entertainment. And you always give clues that it might not be an entirely ringing endorsement, so the caveat emptor is clear enough.

    The most masticky scent I’ve experienced is the 2012 edp reworking of Habanita. I think it would be brilliant on a man. It is very good. Mastic-centric compared to the original, considerably more modern in structure and ingredients but with a reverent nod to the rich, smoothly blended, powdery original. When I picture it, the colour is tobacco brown.

    • Habanita has been coming up in conversations recently, as apparently you can get that recent version pretty cheaply (and I can actually imagine preferring it; less fusty, and I like the idea of this green note being in there as well. I wore it once in Mexico City, and I can’t tell you how right it felt!)

      As for overegging, in this one, it really was, wasn’t it? But it turns out that I absolutely adore it now. I am going to wear it again today, actually as I am finding it bolstering and soothing to the nerves at the same time, like hiding in some shady green arcadian grove protected from all the decidedly brown coloured bullshit.

  10. Believe it or not, I have never tried this scent from Sisley, and I really thought I knew their range of scents so well. I love Private Collection, so I am intrigued to find the similarities and the differences as well.
    I am quite curious about this scent, not that it would suit me well, nor that I will even like it, just to experience it.
    On verra…

    • I think it kind of came and went and nobody bought it, but they keep a tester under the counter usually.

      Does your husband wear scent? I can imagine you adoring this on him; just a little. It is powdery and green; odd, but semi-poetic. I LOVED wearing yesterday. I don’t think I have ever smelled anything else quite like it!

  11. Jan

    Dear Black Narcissus, this is one of the most tremendous, inspired perfume stories I’ve read so far. You’ve just got yourself a fan. Thank you ever so much. Greeting, Jan

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