KASHMIRI TEAK: BLACK SAFFRON by BYREDO (2012)

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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.

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24 Comments

Filed under Saffron, Woods

24 responses to “KASHMIRI TEAK: BLACK SAFFRON by BYREDO (2012)

  1. brie

    the problem I have with Safran Troublant is not the drydown but the onset. The saffron note is so ubiquitous on me that all I want to do is eat my bony little arm! I prefer the more subtle, innocuous saffron laced leather of Ineke’s Evening Edged in Gold (which also contains notes of angel’s trumpet, osmanthus and midnight candy-yes, that is indeed a flower and NOT a chemist’s wild amalgamation!).

  2. ninakane1

    I bought a little bottle of an old 40s perfume called Bombi Black Magic the other week, but when it came the top had been superglued on! So I couldn’t smell it. Very frustrating. But I have a weird feeling it might smell like this.

  3. RVB

    I haven’t found a Byredo that’s worked for me yet.I find most of them overtly synthetic.This one sounds interesting.I too enjoy saffron as a perfumery note.I have Safran Troublant and enjoy the way the saffron note is melded with the rose and vanilla(the rose vanilla much in the style of Tocade).I agree with Brie.It initially smells insanely edible.Other interesting saffron perfumes I have are Idole by Lubin(kind of a pirates take on saffron)- Bond no.9 New York Oud which is probably the most potent saffron perfume I’ve encountered,a true powerhouse of rose,oud ,and saffron, bordering on skanky-and Olympia Music Hall by Histories de Parfums where a metallic saffron note is combined with rose and sweetened by a freesia note.I believe it was the blogger Olenska of the now defunct blog Parfumieren who described Olympia as smelling like the fog that comes out of the fog machines at dance clubs.I couldn’t have described it better.Your compelling review has piqued my curiosity and I shall have to seek the Byredo out.Your ability to create a palpable visceral response with your words is unparalleled.Chapeau!

  4. Dearest Ginza
    What an exquisite description and whilst it might not have been the intention ” an uncomfortable intensity, as though you were creosoting a fence with tar, while simultaneously sucking on a blood orange and a framboise cigar” has The Dandy salivating.
    Tar, ink, and tobacco so repellent to others seem to draw one in, moth to flame.
    Yours ever
    The Perfumed Dandy

    • My word, dear Dandy, who knew that tarring a fence could sound appealing? But I wonder if this isn’t the first sign of the emerging perfumista; rather than finding a few pretty scents to wear and quitting, the perfumista-to-be keeps hearing about smells that she can’t quite imagine and moving toward them rather than away. Unlike other sensible primates, the perfumisto hears about niche offerings like Hissing Cat in Litterbox or Eau de Badgerbutt and thinks “cool, I wonder just what that would smell like.” If I could come up with something that really and truly smelled like a rutting buffalo, I might not be able to sell it, but I would know the true perfumistos because they would be unable to resist sniffing it.

      • Dearest Feral
        That is too funny.
        But I fear that such perversions were my way long before I became anything approaching a perfumisto.
        Since a child I’ve always loved the smell of tar, creosote, petrol, charcoal, coal and oil as much as flowers and citrus fruits.
        I prefer sharp or bitter tastes to the sweet too.
        I imagine it was the way in which I was made.
        ‘Hissing cat in litterbox’ sounds hellish though as, unlike seemingly everyone else in perfumedland, The Dandy is not on good terms with felines.
        Yours ever
        The Perfumed Dandy
        Post script: Apologies for whispering in class Narcissus.

      • I don’t recall your whispers..

      • In fairness, this scent in my view has nothing rutting or dirty about it at all; it is just too STRONG and harsh for my sensibilities.

        I do know what the Dandy means about creosote though: I always strangely liked that smell as well, but combined with orange and raspberry it simply does my head in. So toxic.

    • On your head be it, dear Sir.

  5. I have the same visceral reaction to sniffing saffron threads and saffron in cooking, and would love to have that come through in a perfume. I do love Safran Troublant, maybe because I seem to be anosmic to the finish, and can’t smell it at all after an hour, so I wear it on bright spring weekend days, when touching up is not a problem. Black Saffron seemed to me to be, not just hyper-masculine, but Paleolithically masculine. I can imagine our most distant ancestors smelling very much like this as they hunkered over their fire and watched the entrance to the cave warily. Ordinarily I am not this rigid about gender distinctions in perfume, but the idea of a woman smelling like this just seems mindbendingly wrong to me. But I can imagine an Egyptian man of the early dynasties, smelling of Black Saffron, encountering a priestess of the temple of Isis who is a vision in pleated linen and just happens to smell very like Safran Troublant….wouldn’t they smell good together?

  6. Lilybelle

    I know nothing of saffron in perfumery, but I loved reading the review. 🙂

  7. Expensively dressed city hipster. Exactly! When I think of Byredo as a brand — calculatingly “positioned” with canny marketing including a price tag that takes the actual value of the materials and inflates the hell out of it, ensuring its status among contemporary exclusif status-seekers — I think of picking up any glossy lifestyle/shelter mag and flipping to a spread of a designer bathroom, shiny and white, revoltingly costly, the best brushed-metal faucets, etc. etc. There on the pristine counter beside the stack of fluffy $200 Egyptian cotton towels sits a bottle of Byredo Black Saffron.

    I love the sound of your crab and salmon pasta with white wine saffron tomato and white cabbage sauce.

    For saffron, I’m partial to Calligraphy Saffron. It beefs up the saffron with the dusty-powdery, slightly acrid/oily note of marigold.

    Thank you for recycling this older pieces, written in those dark days before I knew of you!

  8. Renee Stout

    This is strangely named since I get no saffron whatsoever. What I do get is is a woman wearing a rose perfume, dining on a cucumber salad as she sits next to an ashtray (not saying this is a bad thing). In the far dry down, it definitely evokes Tom Ford’s Tuscan Leather, but Black Saffron is more subtle and less synthetic smelling than TL.

    • Ugh just these scents……..I don’t know I think the ashtray thing is right, and I think it is that ARIDITY that I can’t abide. It is actually quite good in a way, this scent, but

      • Yes, a good point. It’s not that Byredo makes bad stuff, but that, at least to me, it’s got no blood and guts and soul. There’s something impersonal about the line, And I think – and this is just me creating a story, conjecture, which may be fiction – that some of the appeal to many is this quality. If you start getting into Guerlains and Patous and other complex vintages or big personalities like Malle with the technical/perfumers’ art focus to wrap your head around, it’s a lot to have to understand. Byredo is effortless. To wit:

        “Swedish born brand BYREDO artfully fuses the magic of luxury fragrance with with art, design and fashion. The unique blends that were created by some of the world’s greatest perfumers, using the highest quality raw ingredients have become cult fragrances among the style set, together with the coveted collaborations with some of the fashion world’s hottest names including Acne Studios and M/M Paris.”

        Blah, blah, blah.

        Most of the line is bland, with a couple of requisite out-there compositions like M/Mink (loud with a half-life of ten years, yet simplistic; a huge yawn, imo) to create buzz and a reputation for great daring. “It’s gross, but it’s ART, man!” Uh-huh.

        I obviously need another cup of tea this morning. Curmudgeon!

      • My eyes have started bleeding

  9. Katy

    I agree with Robin! One of the first perfume lines I have experienced that smells better on paper and looks better on paper too! I found M/Mink repulsive on my skin and the entire line is loaded with Iso E Super, a distasteful molecule I can now discern at 50 paces……

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