We have been  talking recently about signature scents, whether of Hollywood stars or just ourselves, and this excessive treat by Kenzo, which is still going strong, was definitely one of mine.


It is a milestone of sorts: the first ‘women’s’ scent I wore with pride, and also a marker of the first years of my time in Japan, when everything was new, exciting and disorientating and I would return to England periodically laden with incense and stories of my experiences, reeking (no, reeking, really) of L’Eléphant. If there is any scent my friends associate with me, it is probably this flamboyant creation, which somehow, for a while,  suited me perfectly.


I even wore it to work all the time, unaware at that point of the suffering I was probably causing……



One of my nicknames growing up, which I never liked, was Nelly The Elephant (along with Neil, Neil orange peel, or lemon peel, or whatever peel you like, any chantable derivative of my name) : yet, ironically, for a time I then eventually end up being synonymous with a perfume actually called elephant, a scent I would wear in unbearably huge amounts, and even deliberately spray on people’s walls when I was staying for the night at their houses, taking the perfume association thing to ludicrous levels of self-importance (you WILL smell me and remember me even when I am not there: I will haunt you with the presence of my long, vanilla-kissed trunk…..)










It was always hilarious, though, I must say, to be asked


‘Wow, what perfume are you wearing?’


and be able to answer






…a perfume so intense it actually burns human skin (mine in any case……I always had red patches from the absurd concentration of sensitizing spices and ylang.. and Japanese Parisian aroma chemicals…….maybe it would suit the skin of the great pachyderm itself better: : : : : : : : great runs of cardamom-scented elephants charging across the savannahs and plains, scaring off the yelping cheetahs and lions with gigantic clouds of ylang ylang and patchouli








….a  perfume that, quite understandably, still has a small posse of enthusiasts across the world who keep it in production (Le tigre, which I also loved, is now unfortunately extinct)…..



No. The Elephanters truly love its plummy, Christmas cake excesses: its spiced, inspiriting intensity, but more importantly the fact that it elicits such positive, even wild reactions from others (especially in its closing stages). I have practically caused stampedes, wearing this perfume;  I distinctly remember the first time I debuted the perfume in a bar in Yokohama, and people were all over me, women especially, sniffing my neck wantonly, excited by its effluvium of everything in the poacher’s kitchen sink.








With a great, bellowing, fanfare, the sweetest ylang ylang flowers; cumin, cardamom and mandarins trumpet savagely from the skin, a perilous stage you have to endure before you begin to wade through the massive, uninhabitable jungle to reach that delicious main theme, which is a rich, buttery accord of vanilla, patchouli and a huge dollop of liquorice.




Gorgeous and grotesque in equal measure, this really is a fun scent to wear out once in a while, but only in cold weather lest you be cloyed to death.



On the wrong, sweaty, hot and greasy day, Elephant is nothing short of an atrocity.








I have had friends who have absolutely loved the scent on me (the closing stages) and then tried it on themselves, only to screech in distress at the initial toxic shock and run like crazy to the nearest source of water and soap. My current big bottle comes from a friend who bought it based on how I smelled, was appalled when he tried it on himself, and immediately handed it over to my willing, grabbing hands.






Filed under Liquorice, occasionally sickening scents, Orientals, Patchouli, Perfume Reviews, Spice Orientals, Vanilla, Ylang Ylang

53 responses to “DUMBO DUMBO : L’ELEPHANT by KENZO (1996)

  1. alabasterwrists

    In reading other blogs online I have heard many positive comments about your Elephante (it has a bit of a cult following) and always wondered exactly what it smelled like….now I know! If you would have told me a year ago that there was a strong licorice note in it I would have turned away but I have come to love licorice in perfume (thanks to Reglisse Noire by 1000 Flowers- one whiff straight from the bottle and it is instant bliss for me). But now I am curious about Elephante-the dry down sounds phenomenal!

    And children can be so cruel with nicknames ( I had my own share of taunts because of my petiteness-“midget” rhymed with my name if you pronounced it the American way versus the French). I am glad to see that you turned it around into something positive-your signature scent!

  2. ginzaintherain


    You have to smell this personally, and to go through THE STAGE before you can know for sure if this scent is bearable. There is something about the initial stages that is pretty problematic in my book, though ultimately this perfume is unique, insane and gorgeous. Please get your hands on some and tell me how you feel!

  3. It is intense! It’s also terrific. And that elephant on top of the bottle just makes me coo. Did you take one of the images from the commercial?

    • ginzaintherain

      I just nicked it from some photo on the internet. I love that elephant on top as well. So hilarious and really quite audacious, actually.

      How does it smell on you?

      • Warm and spicy! Like mangoes and cardamom whirred together in a blender in the middle of the jungle full of flowers. And some puffy critter thrown in there 🙂

      • ginzaintherain

        And is it a compliment magnet?

      • Actually, I’m not sure to be honest. I wore it a lot (and for the first time) this summer when I was finishing up my PhD in the sub-basement of my university library. It was so cold down there because of the air-conditioning that I became desperate for anything warming. It didn’t hurt that L’Éléphant made me feel like I was on vacation — albeit a vacation to a weirdly yummy, abstract jungle.

        I guess no one else cared for the distraction-free sub-basement because I never ran into anyone else down there. So that explains the lack of compliments. But the weather is turning here, and I am feeling like something warming again. I think it’s time to pull it out and wear it again 🙂

      • ginzaintherain

        I love perfume’s ability to warm you up or cool you down. What is your PHD in, if I may ask?

      • French literature. I wrote my dissertation on food and contemporary French literature.

  4. There’s the most beautiful elephant picture that I want to send you. It’s a print from the front of a children’s book, illustrated by a painter called Frank Brangwyn (a hugely prolific artist, who turned his hand to anything and everything – oil paintings, murals, furniture, crockery, posters)..had it on my studio wall for ages, but it’s not anywhere on t’net, damn damn. Will find it. Beautiful, beautiful review, and you’ve brought back memories of two precious childhood toys – a black elephant and a red elephant. they were made in India, bought from a hippy little shop in the 1970s in Lancaster, made from beautiful hard felt, handstiched, decorated with subtle, dull-coloured but dustily enticing sequins. Sturdy little fellas. I don’t know what happened to them but they were my constant companions when I was 5 years’ old. Thank you for wonders as ever Mr Ginza x

  5. ginzaintherain

    Actually Serafina you might like to try this one. I don’t exaggerate its burny overthetopness, but it is kind of gorgeous (though I have most definitely outgrown it).

    I love the sound of the picture!

    • Ah good! As it happens, I’d already packed Serafina’s elephant picture in the parcel that’s coming out to you. Hope you like it! Tried to send it on Saturday but it was 1 GRAM over the small package limit (!) and the post office lady was insistent on shutting the door so she could get out into the sun, so I had to bring it home to take some things out of it. Posting tomorrow, so will be with you a bientot. x This comment might pop up twice as it disappeared when I tried to send it earlier.

      • That sounds fabulous, Nina. We need a new picture for the kitchen actually as Duncan has controversially moved the CD rack upstairs and there is a glaring space.

    • Just rereading this now. It does sound VERY sweet. I’ll keep scouring the ebay vintage sites to find it. btw – did you like that picture? I was thinking about it today as I found a photo of my third-year room at King’s and noticed there was a picture of an elephant on my wall. It was a special edition freebie from the 10,000 Maniacs Blind Man’s Zoo album! I’d completely forgotten about it, but when I first saw the Brangwyn picture I knew it reminded me of something. This must have been it!

  6. serafinarose

    Oops where did my comment go? This may pop up twice! It sounds like one I should try indeed – it’s hitting all the right notes for me – patchoulie, ylang ylang, mango – lots of faves, and it’s the season for it ( something to warm the cockles). I know what you mean about outgrowing perfumes though. I could never go back to wearing Body Shop White Musk, though it totally defined my 16-24 year old self! I tried it on a few months ago and had a quick burst of nostalgia and bliss – utterly transported back to youthful giddy else and optimism – but it was like having a little me -toddler-like- clinging to my arm all afternoon and I couldn’t see how to reconcile it with my wrinkling, ample, heart-knowing and world-travelled 45 year old self! My dear friend Fiona – a goddess to me at 16- wore this exclusively and still does. It smells utterly different on her than anyone else and she makes it her own.

    • ginzaintherain

      White Musk is an incredibly emotive perfume, and a work of genius in my view. Also almost alarmingly sexy: a friend of mine, when he was a sixth form student, had a girlfriend in Paris, and he actually, when kissing her wearing this at the station in a goodbye kiss, er, you know, couldn’t quite prevent certain reactions from occurring.

      It was a sticky ride back on the metro.

      And yet! That insistency! That constant faux-innocent insinuation could get too much after a while, and I love your idea of the former self clinging to you, showing that you have accepted the idea of maturity and enjoy new selves. In my case, on the whole I still like wearing most of my old perfumes from time to time (some I have never stopped wearing like Givenchy Gentleman) and don’t find the youthful thing jarring (yet), possibly as I haven’t properly accepted the reality of aging yet I don’t know. Elephant is just so sickly and STRONG though, and I think my bottle is too old now as well. I would always recommend it to the bold, though. It is a gorgeous perfume ultimately.

      • Hahaha I love that cheeky Parisian tale! Yes, I was a White Musk junkie back in the day too, and still love it, but find it hard to wear without being instantly transported to teenage days of giddy passion in Canterbury city centre and King’s College cellar bar. I have a little spritz every now and then to reminisce, but it renders me literally incapable of participating in the present world if I do… spend hours mooning into the dregs of a cold earl grey tea if I go back there for too long. A perfume I do like reminiscing with though, from the same youthful era, is the old Spiritual Sky Patchoulie Oil – the one you could get in hippy goth shops for 99p! It’s utterly pungent, with absolutely no subtlety – a big whack of musky molasses that stains your wrist yellow like iodine. I shall try the Kenzo too. I like perfumes that have a certain nasal ambush quality – this sounds like it might be one for the feisty forties!

      • ginzaintherain

        You write like a dream: ‘ a big whack of musky molasses’ : I can totally imagine it even without having smelled it.

        Go for a mini of Elephant if you can find one cheap – I don’t think it is worthy of a full bottle until you are sure….

  7. Gracious, what a story! But talking of white musk, have you tried Citizen Queen by (and yes, it sounds awfully ‘gangster’) Julliete Got a Gun? Rather surprised at how much I liked this range. Coming out of our local Harvey Nicks I was collared by a skinny-looking waif – bless her – who pressed me to take a sample. GROANED inwardly, frankly expecting the perfume to be just a little tacky, but it was marvellous! Beautiful. Simple, elegant and lasted all day. Smells just like the Body Shop’s White Musk, but a mature and more sophisticated scent version.

  8. Can I tell you wonderful it is to have found your blog? I just love how you describe these fragrances and talk about your experiences and memories in relationship with them. I even love this essay on L’Elephant even though I find it challenging for me to wear. I love the late dry down phase, which is beautiful, but until then it’s just…… something that’s, very sadly, not right on me.

  9. Martha

    L’Elephant is another one I’ve not tried though I’m interested. I loved the image of a herd of elephants clearing the savannah. Thanks for emphasizing this perfume’s intensity; once I finally get a sample I’ll know to proceed with caution.

  10. In my very earliest days as a beginning perfumista I received a sample of this from a senior perfumista, sprayed myself lavishly, sat in the hot cloud for about an hour earnestly trying to like it, then showered and went to the mall, where I bought a large bottle of Flowerbomb. That sweet vanillic floral seemed like the perfect antidote at the time. Fortunately I did go back to niche scents, found some loves and many likes, and learned not to spring The Elephant upon the unsuspecting. Come to think of it, that bottle of Flowerbomb is probably still in the cabinet somewhere, sprayed maybe three or four times. Maybe it can find further use as an antidote when niche gets just a little too weird.

    • Elephant IS kind of horrific, I really do think so, and it honestly does burn me quite badly. Stinging red patches. But it all coagulates eventually into something quite gorgeous as well. I just can’t wear it anymore; even for memories’ sake. I tried a bit on my wrists the other day and it is just completely wrong.

      As for Flowerbomb, it is a very easy scent, but I also find it quite irritating and dare I say it, a bit mindless and vulgar. No wonder you don’t wear it!

      • No kidding. I still wonder what I was thinking. It is true, however, that when I walk through the department store I can pick out the scent of Flowerbomb, and maybe that day it was the only thing that didn’t smell just like all the others. I have a problem with throwing perfume away, and perhaps some day I’ll meet somebody who wants my bottle of Flowerbomb. But here’s the really irritating thing: the few times I wore it, men followed me around like dogs. It was sort of like your friend on the Metro (well, not quite like that.)I have never again received so many compliments on a scent. It is as if you went to work in that rose thing by L’Occitane and suddenly all your colleagues fell over each other to tell you how wonderful you smelled. Is there any explaining that? maybe, as you said, it’s an easy scent. But I do feel a little peeved that I wear far higher quality scents now and never
        get the same response.

      • Kudos to the perfumer though, whoever it was.

        That is what most of the world wants, exactly, from a scent. Perhaps you could use it in some kind of Dangerous Liaisons power game…

      • Men always gave me compliments when I wore Flowerbomb too. One man liked it so well that he asked for the name of it so that he could gift his wife :))

  11. Rafael

    Guffaws, chortles and mad giggles of an hour… funny how things you read can make you just go to pieces. “I will haunt you with the presence of my long, vanilla-kissed trunk…” This fragrance, as yet not tried by me (though dutifully ordered from ebay a moment ago) sounds like the reactions I get when I wear Muscs Koublai Kahn. Am I close?

    • No, because Muscs Koublai Kahn is strangely and gorgeously natural and that is why it shocks as it is just too close to home.

      Elephant is just so STRONG; grotesquely so. I don’t know if the current formulation is like that; mine is a bottle from when it came out, but I know that there is something buttery and cloying in it that can drive me insane.

      Having said that, it really was my signature for a few years and people just loved that end accord on me.

      Let me know what you think !

      • “Strangely and gorgeously natural”… There is MKK neatly summed up.

      • Which is why I can’t wear it!

      • Rafael

        “strangely and gorgeously natural” expresses it well. I came across MKK originally at the shop in Paris where they give you one of those scented unguents. I worked the stuff behind my ears and neck and went to meet a friend for drinks. Opening comment form him was “Jesus, Rafael, you smell like you’ve been having sex under a bridge all afternoon. “Next morning I was back at the shop practically tearing the door off its hinges to be sure I could get my hands on a bottle.

      • That quote is making me smile extraordinarily broadly.

  12. I love the late dry down of L’Elephant, it’s gorgeous, but until then I struggle with it. There is something underlying that just isn’t right on me and I wish I knew what it was. Anyway, I am so glad to have stumbled upon this blog because I just love reading your posts, thank you!

  13. ninakane1

    This is one of my favourite reviews of yours. Great to read it all again. Must try this perfume x

  14. Lilybelle

    A truly great fragrance, and a great review. I’m a little perturbed at myself for not snagging a bottle when they were easy to get, but then again I probably wouldn’t have worn it much so just as well to leave it to someone who would. I was always curious about the Tigre one. Did you ever try it?

  15. Ooh was randomly thinking about this review the day before yesterday!! Lovely to read it again. Must try Elephant sometime.Am on a Palais Jamais fest at the moment, waiting for Christmas Day when I can open the l’Heuere Bleue Parfum i got for a steal on Ebay last month! Emily is still wafting around drenched in Vanille et Coco, and I’ve just received a bottle of my favourite Roger et Galet Gingembre, which is the perfect spritz to go and decorate the caravan in! Have a brilliant time in Miami and New Orleans Mr G xxx

  16. Funny, I was thinking about this one recently too. We are having a long spell of dark cold weather, most unusual for New Mexico, and it has me thinking that this might be my time to understand The Elephant. I think the bottle is still in the back of a drawer, right where I stuck it after I first tried it on a warm spring day and fled in appallment…

  17. Love the pictures with this review. I smell this on people in France – I think it must have a good following here. I’m tempted to get a bottle but only a little 30ml one as I tried it recently and it’s a potent little number.

  18. Fabulous scent! Remember being so intrigued by it when I worked at Sephora, yes we carried it at the time. So happy to know it is such a special scent to you, it is enchanting and intoxicating.

  19. A great, rollicking read! I’ve been fascinated by Elephant from all the purple prose I’ve come across, but you’ve managed to keep the whole thing fun, not tiresomely reverent. Very “you” to write it this way. Spraying the walls? Ha! Why haven’t I thought of that?! And knowing what you’ve told us about delicate Japanese sensibilities in scent, Elephant would have really been the elephant in the room.
    I’ve never smelled it. I love massive, impolite scents like this, but so many modern ones are simultaneously, paradoxically boring.
    Thanks for the re-run. Love catching up on the ol’ archives.

    • Yes I was in the mood for something rollicking. I think you would find that if you did smell it, the initial impression would be like mine: it’s like an oil slick of sweet spiced heaviness. The dry down on the right person, though, as I say, can be quite adorable. Having said that, I can’t ever wear it again. EVER.

  20. Tara C

    How timely… I just happened to order a decant of this from STC and spritzed it on this morning. I am guessing it must have been reformulated as it is now a polite spicy thing that whispers rather than roars. Must seek out a vintage sample.

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