THE MOST TERRIBLE PERFUME EVER MADE : : : : : : : : : : : : : : : : : : CABOTINE LEMON by GRES (2019)





Pre- Covid we could actively go browsing in stores in the city, mingling, using up money. On one such occasion last year after visiting a clinic in Sakuragicho that overlooked the Minato Mirai ‘future district’, I went down the endless escalators in the same building to an extensive pharmacy that sells discount perfumes – bargain flankers of Salvatore Ferragamo; Bulgari; the Prada Candy series; Lanvin’s Japanese superhit fragrance, Eclat D’Arpège.





As a lemon fancier – I don’t think there is a flavour or taste that I like better  –  on seeing Eau De Rochas Fraîche, and ‘Cabotine Lemon’ by Grès, neither of which I knew, and for which testers were unavailable, both were so cheap I decided to buy them anyway; I had always rather liked the serene, curiously depressed citrus of the original Eau de Rochas and could imagine that a reinvented, less mossier version of that cologne might work nicely as a work scent; as might the Grès, even if I couldn’t entirely imagine how a green ginger lily floral (Cabotine – also a superhit here in Japan in the 90’s – everyone was wearing it) would be translated through the crisper prisms of lip-smacking lemon.










( Madame Grès was once famous for her beautiful dresses and classic scent Cabochard, as well as the beautiful citruses Qui Pro Quoand Homme de Grès )













Although at first, with its slightly metallic rinsing of the original classic, I thought it might be a bit Robo-Rochas, I found myself wearing Eau Fraiche during my first online lessons at the beginning of the lockdown just for a change of persona, and found that it gave off quite a pleasant chypric patina of citrus cleanliness with a slightly enigmatic touch: I might try actually wearing it out of the house this week on a white shirt in the classroom.

















There is no chance of that happening whatsoever with Cabotine Lemon.






While plenty of perfumes are off-putting on first spray   — I know you will have your own tales of horror and am interested in hearing them; those scents that can turn your face unaware into a grimace or despair and disgust; those that you would rather die than wear on your person : : : : : what are your ultimate nadirs? ………..    —-  Cabotine Lemon is a very different, much more surreptitious  kettle of fish in that it insidiously almost made me feel, for a few minutes,  that I might actually wear it.






I TRIED, in other words.   I sprayed it and waited. And even though I knew instinctively that something wasn’t ‘quite right’, I persisted.













Salvador Dali Melting Clocks










The cliché about lemon perfumes is that for a lot of people they smell just like furniture polish. I happen to like that particular smell, so a hint of Pledge in the air is not necessarily a deal breaker. And this perfume is ‘shiny and juicy’ initially (verbena, lemon, geranium, grapefruit), as promised by the blurb, but it quickly feels that the lemons you have ingested are all full of poison. A false lacquer. Something bitter, underlying a very fake charm ( at this point purchase officially regretted).






But it gets worse:  a synthetic ‘oakmoss’ and sage accord that is definitely the clincher – hideous – laced with an amygdala piercing petitgrain-peach.





















Sage is okay for me in certain dishes – I find it quite nice with pork, even if there is something that makes me squirm about the grey flaccid, micro-haired texture of the herb’s actual leaves  (I have never particularly liked the essential oil either). What I really detest, though, is the burning of white sage leaves, a practice that quite a lot of people do for spiritual purification; white witches, fortune tellers; a kinky nightclub owner friend of Duncan’s stayed over one night and slept on our couch; I came down the stairs the next day to that heinous, gut clutching stench in the kitchen as she wafted about the sage smoke of death talking about rituals and ‘cleansing’ (the irony!) : an acridness that shudders my insides like old armpits and dead goats and marijuana all rising and nauseating me to the very pit of my stomach.








Likewise, Cabotine Lemon has that burnt sage note sewn into the centre of its vile core, but masked, painted like an evil clown with its sunny chemical lemon sunglasses on top, a veneer of shining happiness that you valiantly try to suffer through BECAUSE YOU HAVE BOUGHT THE DAMN THING and have to at least persevere a bit  ( twice : I could never go near it again in fact shit: where is it? I threw it angrily into a cupboard the second and final time I tried it which means it is STILL IN HERE somewhere    )  –






















—     the final feeling for me, before I rushed to scrub the thing off, a horrific sensation inside my intestines of discomfort ; a physical and psychic toxicity. Other perfumes may be more antipathetic on first meeting ; anything containing burnt notes of smoke mixed with sweetness, milk and bonfire, for example, is immediately appalling to my senses, but those kind of perfumes are quite common in the niche world now and I know some people like them (appreciation of scent, of anything, being so obviously subjective ). For me though,  despite its apparent sunniness, in all honesty I don’t think any fragrance has ever quite wormed its way into my brain and blood system in such a repulsive; and duplicitous, way as this cheap, citric atrocity.











Filed under Lemon Chypres

46 responses to “THE MOST TERRIBLE PERFUME EVER MADE : : : : : : : : : : : : : : : : : : CABOTINE LEMON by GRES (2019)

  1. Madame Gres must have been spinning in her grave when this came out. This is what happens when names get licensed out ( I think this was a Japanese only release ).

  2. Carrie

    Chloe See Eau Fraiche was that fragrance for me. I can’t even remember what I disliked so much about it note wise but it made me feel as if I were having some kind of psychological meltdown or mini brain issue when I tried it and I hate that it’s still in my house. Close second is one of the Baby Phat fragrances, I don’t want to know the person who enjoys it. I can’t imagine anyone wanting to smell like that. A lot of fragrances get a bad rap for smelling, ostensibly, like unclean women of Ill repute and I never see that in them. There was a line in the book version of The Postman Always Rings Twice about the female protagonist looking like “the grandmother of all the whores in the world” in her wretched guilt, and that is what this fragrance is to me. It’s under my bed with a bunch of other neglected perfumes, I think of it as some demonic entity, coming to life where I will wake up some night in sleep paralysis, smelling it and only it, forever.

    Bad fragrances I like and perversely want to wear, there is one. Yatagan. I remember smiling from ear to ear when I first encountered it. It’s so BRAZEN.

    There are a million others that all blend into one another in their banality but they are easy to ignore.

    • Definitely. The first Chloé – of the reboot -is a horror show for me too, actually. All ‘roses’ like that are. They penetrate my endocrine system. I know Catherine, who sometimes appears on here, had serious issues with it too as it made her feel ill.

      Like you say, the notes in the Goddess sound ok – and I am quite fine with the putana scents on the whole – but there must be something in it, some overlay of notes, that just doesn’t work for your physiognomy.

      Cabotine Lemon is a slow killer, like a satin gas attack.

  3. Carrie

    I had to look it up. It’s Baby Phat Seductive Goddess. The notes are:vanilla, rose, violet, patchouli, bergamot, citruses, leather and labdanum. What’s not to love?

  4. bibimaizoon

    I’m not a fan of the burnt sage note either. Actually, I can’t stand the acrid, skanky, seedy stench of burnt sage, cannabis (smoked or unsmoked), and patchouli. It is both a physical and emotional reaction. All 3 remind me of my younger days attending music & art festivals in California. It doesn’t help that all 3 were often accompanied by the rancorous reek of hippies who hadn’t bathed in a week, (and probably hadn’t washed their dreads in years) stale liquor, overflowing portapotties, and vomit.
    A few other things that make me retch:
    Narcissus – smells like dirty diapers and the ketoacidic breath of a diabetic patient.
    Basil- I love pesto, but basil in a perfume gives me the heaves. I have no idea why?
    Estee Lauder- There is some synthetic musk EL uses in their scents that dries down to the most horrific and nauseatingly urinous fecal funk that makes me ill. I do not know what it is. EL fragrances all start out well then in about 30 minutes go completely rank to my nose.

    • I can relate completely. Unwashed hair is intensely problematic for me, especially mixed with the snells you describe.

      Narcissus : Santa Maria Novella once did an extrait strength soliflore Narcissus that was UNBELIEVABLE. Shocking, yet slightly mesmerizing.

  5. Deanna

    Can I add a runner up to the worst perfume ever made?
    The reformulation of Schiaparelli Schocking, it was I think in the 90’s or 00’s, bought at Harvey Nichols, and still festering on a shelf.
    Can’t bring myself to throw it out.

    • What’s it like ?

      I have a dusty original extrait that smells like mould and sweet patchouli

    • I also won’t throw my Shocking away, but Cabotine Lemon is so hideous also in appearance it’s a double whammy. When it resurfaces from whatever cupboard I tossed it into I might put it in the trash. Actually no – D can take it to the recycle shop : it might suit someone for all I know

  6. Tara C

    Wow, I wore the original Cabotine back in the 90’s and got compliments on it. We got Cabotine Rose and Bleu versions in North America but not the lemon. Neither the Rose nor the Bleu were at all interesting but I loved the original. Anything that smells bad to me I toss or give away immediately so I have nothing festering in my cabinet. The last scent that made me feel disgusted and panicky to get it off me was Bogue Douleur, smelled like vomit after overindulging in sweets. Serge Noire smelled like sweaty armpits and Pamplelune smelled like cat piss.

    There’s a pizza place here that makes a pizza with blue cheese, sage and walnuts that I quite like, but in general I’m not a big sage fan, especially as an odour.

    • I think there might be a subtle note of sage in Apres L’Ondee – I can imagine it working with iris and other notes in tandem nicely, but not sour in a base note. Just thinking about it literally makes my stomach ache!

      Somehow I love Serge Noire for the closeness to Japanese incense, but I know a lot of people can’t stand it. For me, the armpit is Pamplelune!

    • As for Cabotine, I have always thought it was a nice scent, if a little purposefully ‘coquettish’ on certain people. On others – especially in casual clothes like jeans and t-shirt, it is effortlessly pleasing. My cousin wears it – it is slyly sexy and yet clean (which is why I mentioned it the other day in the Pink Pepper and Ginger Lily review as the dry down of that was very Cabotine). Then this morning I remembered the LEMON. I mean maybe I am just being grotesquely overhard on this scent, but to me, hiding under that unwearable lemon varnish is something really WRONG

  7. Robin

    Good read this morning, Neil. Really woke me up.

    For something that theoretically seemed innocuous, that Cabotine Lemon sure unleashed some bad juju. I can’t name any specific scents that were similarly vile, but I do know the feeling. Lots of indie sample vials my dear niecelette sends me have taken me there. There is a common theme. It’s kind of like — I’d imagine — smelling the remains of a bunch of sticks of fireworks post-explosion. Burnt toxic chemicals. And you are right. Add milky sweetness and my stomach roils.

    I don’t think I’ve ever smelled a vintage fragrance, no matter how degraded, that was revolting to me.

    Trying to remember the last modern release that made my head snap back. It was a YSL, I think. That particular, and recently typical, brew of potent cheap aromachemicals that stick in the nose hairs and back of the throat. Often with a sour streak of rotten fruit.

    • Yes! And I agree about vintage. Even when I hated something, like Jazz or Tsar, it was more what it represented, its overall THRUST, than it being aesthetically repellent in itself. But they literally were made so much better in ‘those days’, though it embarrasses me in a way to write it as though I were just an old fart who can’t appreciate the avant garde (which I totally can). These types of quick flankers though, which sell for about ten dollars, really are made on the cheap though – quite nasty.

    • I think this is a whole very interesting conversation, by the way, about the burnt toxic chemicals. It seems to me that things have gone the way of simply ‘let’s make this as weird and conceptual as possible’ – the ‘art of perfumery’ to me often seems light years away from these charred angry ashes.

      • Robin

        Yes, yes, yes. My sentiments exactly. Stuff that might be exciting for a guy to make, surrounded by bottles of pricey, exclusif effluent from a bleeding edge indie source — “omigod, that is one crazy-ass combo, I think I’ll bottle it and call it Chernobyl. The basenote fans will love it.”

      • I hear ya sister. To be honest, I get sent quite a lot of this kind of thing and I just don’t know what to do with it. I don’t know what to write. Also don’t want to hurt people’s feelings (sorry whoever made Cabotine Lemon!). Perhaps the anonymity makes a scathing review so much easier .

    • Tara C

      Oh yes, YSL Libre is dire. Also that new Lancome in the thin rectangular bottle designed to resemble a cell phone – Idole. Awful chemical swill. The 20-something shop girls rave about them. Gag. They have probably never smelt a real perfume.

      • Funnily enough, when I cursorily sniffed Idole I thought the fruitasia was handled better than average, but I haven’t smelled it properly.

        What we are talking about might literally now just be a generation gap! That would pain me to admit, as I don’t feel that I am ‘out of touch’ in other art forms particularly.

      • Robin

        Oh my goodness, Tara. Thank you! That was the one I was trying to remember! Idole. YES. It was beside the Libre on the counter at the drugstore and I spritzed on both of them, each to a wrist. It was the Idole that had Ric, when I went back to the car, sniff, recoil and make a face. (He didn’t like the Libre either, but his reaction was comparatively mild.) Dreadful. I wonder how our noses are so different from the twenty-somethings. I just can’t smell any beauty there, just powerful chemical ugliness. Again, thanks. I kept trying to remember but my senior’s moment turned into total amnesia.

      • To me you are crystal clear: I am the oysterbrain

  8. Robin

    I looked it up. YSL Libre. Sniff at your peril.

  9. Hilarious. Ayyy. Reluctant to name names, but certain smoke and dusty ash tones in certain ultra-niche perfumes remind me of the worst parts of a sick headache/migraine, that make me try to restrict my breathing, like death…

    • This is seriously how I feel too, and wonder WHO precisely is wearing them except for anosmic hipsters. And it becomes like a self-perpetuating circle where that’s how the next niche perfumers think that independent perfumes should be so it gets more and more like runoff from a petrochemical factory that to me is INHUMAN AND UNWEARABLE.

      As D said the other day, sighing when I made him smell yet another one: ‘it would probably be acceptable as part of a DIY process, but….’

      • Robin

        I like that you don’t want to say anything bad about them here. I’m sure you could make several rollicking columns out of it. I can just imagine your descriptions. Great fun for you and for us. But that really would be operating at their expense, and I’m sure they are very earnest about what they’re doing, in spite of any ironic hipster edge to their labels or marketing.

        I do think Chernobyl would be a fine name for one of them. If it hasn’t been used already.

      • The whole thing is an ethical tug.

  10. OnWingsofSaffron

    I think I mentioned my nemesis once before: Fleur poudrée de musc by Les Nereïdes. It is vile beyond words: the breath wafting out of a mouth with extremely bad teeth status and very por overall personal hygiene.
    The other ogre is the stench wafting out those department stores for 16 yrs olds — at least a couple of years ago. Abercrumbie & Fridge or something like that. It is an aromachemical bomb of the cheapest, most potent, most headache inducing sort that it defies all description!

    • Have you ever been inside an entire A + F megastore ?

      They literally pump it into the airstream and you just have to get out

      • OnWingsofSaffron

        Yes, in Brussels & I even bought a pair of grass-green track pants (is that what they‘re called?), marveled at the awesome studs (I guess that’s how they are referred to?) and left with a head-splitting headache.

      • It is an assault on the system : I was surprised they tried that model in Japan as most people would not be able to tolerate that level of olfactory overwhelm. Perhaps you are supposed to link the visual of the torsos ( painter or photod everywhere on the walls alongside the store studs themselves ) with the scent in your mind and then buy it

  11. So much of what is released these days is intolerable to my olfactory system. I agree with others about the Libre and Idole, both are abominations to the fragrance world, yet so many people adore them. It leaves me baffled.
    This is why I just don’t bother with newer scents, just give me my vintage classics and I am happy.
    So sorry you had purchased the Cabotine Lemon, which surely will have Mme Gres spinning in her tomb, before you found out what a horror show it was. This is why I will not ever blind-buy any scent, just too risky.
    Go sniff some vintage Chanel 19 and feel wonderful again.

    • The antidote !

      As a lover of Gres, I know you would be as horrified by this one as I was ! It was the INVISIBLE hidden nastiness that was particularly pernicious

      • I never even enjoyed Cabotine too much on myself, even though it was heavenly on a friend. Lemon done poorly is the worst.
        Have you smelt Alix Gres? It was an early 80’s release from Gres and it is amazing.

      • No! You always have some secret ones up your sleeve that nobody else knows! What is it like?

      • It’s a chypre floral, which seems like it has a ripe fruit note in it, even though not a single fruit is mentioned in the notes. It is practically perfect in this warm weather, it really opens up and blossoms.
        When it gets to the base notes it becomes warm and enveloping.
        Once I am able to go back out, when there is a vaccine, I will get a package together for you and will include some of this. I’m sure you will love it.

  12. Maribeth

    I hear you loud and clear- and to think that I was on the verge of asking a friend in Japan to buy me the new lemony Cabotine.Good thing I read your review for I got to save my money.

  13. Ha! Ha! Sounds like you need therapy of some sort after this experience, Neil. It must be really bad.

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