A person’s reaction to any art form is always highly subjective, and this is especially true of perfume: one man’s Poison really is another man’s cat piss.
And after reading perfume collective Cafleurebon’s recent review of Byredo’s tarry Black Saffron I was amazed : the talk of soft black violets, dewy crystal roses, and soft, enveloping wisps of Hindi saffron stigmas bore almost no resemblance to my personal experience of this fragrance, which, while cleverly put together and in some ways obviously attractive, feels to me more like an assault.
I adore saffron, and have an involuntary reflex action whenever I open my little jar of fragrant ochre strands in the kitchen (usually when I make my signature pasta dish of crab and salmon in a white wine saffron tomato and white cabbage sauce): a cross between a groan and a sigh, a slightly flushed sensation in the chest. That this substance is an aphrodisiac is something I don’t need to be told: I know it as a personally felt physiological experience, and it is for this reason that the precious spice, derived from the flowers of the Persian crocus, has been esteemed for millennia as a sexual stimulant.
In perfume, the only saffron I have ever really come across as a leading note is in L’Artisan Parfumeur’s Safran Troublant, whose beginning I do find troublingly attractive, but whose end ( a synthetic, creamy sandalwood), I dislike; Ormonde Jayne’s rosy, saffrontastic Taïf; and as a component in several perfumes I have by Montale, including the peachy-saffron floral strangeness of Velvet Flowers, which I have a bottle of, and sometimes enjoy wearing when in a freaky mood. At the Paris Montale boutique in the Place Vendôme, when I went there several years ago, there was even a pure saffron scent – just saffron, concentrated – to be layered; tinting the skin a peculiar, culinary orange-yellow.
But Black Saffron, a fragrance by popular Swedish outfit Byredo (a perfume house I essentially cannot abide), has none of the willowing desert eros of these saffron ribbons threading calescent air, or emerging, salivatingly, in the top or heart notes of a scent. Rather, the nifty, urban composition weds a saffronish block of thick, industrialised, dense woods to an intense mix of leather, cashmeran, and vetiver, with an outspoken middle note of raspberry-flavoured pipe tobacco and, at the fore, a piercing, brain-drilling, citrus note of Asian Pomelo (a kind of Chinese grapefruit).
The effect, when you first smell the scent, is very pungent. Though the raspberry-laced tobacco idea has been done before in Tom Ford’s appealing Tuscan Leather, the sensuous addition of black saffron and the penetrating citrus and juniper top note here takes the scent into interesting, if difficult, territory. The juicy bitterness of the pomelo fruit enfolded into the light-devouring woody central theme sees the notes blocked together, with an uncomfortable intensity, as though you were creosoting a fence with tar, while simultaneously sucking on a blood orange and a framboise cigar, poisoning your mouth, and nose, blood, and possibly your brain, in the process.
This dry yet viscid mouthfeel of Black Saffron has a rich homefurnishings qualität, the pleasurable suffocation of top-level, shining teak tables fresh from furniture polish, and for that reason I initially tried a few squirts as a room spray in my genkan, or entrance, thinking it might work quite nicely in that context. But within seconds, in an Indian peek-a-boo game of nuclear sillage, the scent, with the ability to move through walls with the silent stealth of a Kashmiri insurrectionist, had filled up my kitchen: a billowing, conscious-dimming, black cloud of orange-rind-drenched mahogany. Or should I say agony.
Needless to say, this is not something I would be able to wear myself.
Nevertheless, I can imagine that Black Saffron will have been quite a big hit for Byredo. Despite what I have written above, it does smell good, in the sense that it is well constructed, direct, and smells contemporary. It would accompany an expensively dressed city hipster perfectly, turning heads in the process.
With a scent trail this strong, that is a guarantee.