Wearing Papillon Salome is like listening to Ice Ice Baby by Vanilla Ice and wondering why the opening bars sound so familiar. You know you’ve heard it before, but even while your brain is scrambling to retrieve the reference, you’re enjoying the hell out of the song.
Half the pleasure comes from that feeling of “I know this tune…. don’t I?”
The thrill of the new is over-rated anyway. A friend of mine once said that the older he got, the more ok he was with buying multiple variations of a fragrance he loved. In other words, as long as it was a fantastic rendition of something he already loved, he didn’t mind if it was original or not.
I completely understand this sentiment. I am only a little bit ashamed of myself for owning six or seven other fragrances that are all declensions of Shalimar in some shape or form (Shaal Nur, Fate Woman, Ambre 114, Mona di Orio Vanille, Musc Ravageur, and Opus 1144 to name a few).
The realization that Vanilla Ice simply (shop) lifted entire sections from Queen’s Under Pressure doesn’t stop me from loving Ice Ice Baby. It is its own creature, even though it plays off a chord that is deeply familiar. Both songs make me smile – Under Pressure, because it bristles with a very camp, very British sense of humor, and Ice Ice Baby, because it’s hilarious.
Salome is a tour of the greatest hits of the fragrance skankiverse, sampling riffs from well-loved songs such as vintage Bal a Versailes, Musc Tonkin, Femme, and Theo Fennel Scent, and spinning them off into something that, while not new or wildly original, is an utter pleasure to wear. And it is such a beautiful and accomplished riff on those fragrances that one might be tempted to replace some or all of them with just Salome.
It is a ludicrously dense, packed fragrance. A super-saturated supernova of a scent with layers and layers of heavy musks, fur, flowers, spice, and sweat.
Let me try to unpack the layers.
Right away, I smell a layer of vintage Bal a Versailles floating on top – honeyed orange blossoms, tobacco-leather, and a refined urine note (possibly civet). Salome’s take on Bal a Versailles is – dare I say it – an improvement on the original, because it completely removes that odd, cheap note I like to call “Plasticized Air” that always pokes out at me from Bal a Versailles. The sleaziness I always pick up from orange blossom slots in perfectly here with the cumin.
And wow, Salome is also super-cuminy. This layer strongly recalls Rochas Femme – not the softer, muskier vintage version, but the modern version which fairly shrieks with cumin, put there to give Femme back the sex curves it lost when all manner of nitro musks were banned. The cumin gives Salome a crude sexuality, reminiscent of a musky, female crotch – not unwashed crotch, just, um,….. heated, shall we say. If you’re someone who thinks that Amouage’s Jubilation 25 (the woman’s version) or Al Oudh smell like the armpits of a New York cab driver, then avoid Salome at all costs.
Under all this, there are heavy, animalic musks providing a sort of subwoofer effect, amplifying and fluffing up the other notes. I can easily identify two of my favorite musks here.
First to reach my nose (and then fade away very quickly) is a rich, furry musk strongly reminiscent of Muscs Khoublai Khan. This is mostly the effect of a rich, warm castoreum soaked in rose oil, but the similarity is impressive. MKK and Salome share this unique effect of the musk almost taking up a physical presence in front of your nose – like the swelling scent of damp hair or a damp fur coat being dried off in front of an old-fashioned electric bar heater. I can’t quite explain it, but the musk here has a tactile quality quite like sticking your nose above an agora sweater and feeling the static pulling the fine angora hairs towards your nostrils.
Underneath the short-lived MKK-style musk is the almost painfully animalic musk from Musc Tonkin – one so utterly redolent of the fur and animal fat of a marine animal that it comes off as faintly briny. Thankfully, though, it never quite approaches that metallic edge that Musc Tonkin has (which fascinates me but also repels me in equal measure). But that salty, fatty animal aspect of Musc Tonkin’s musk is present in Salome to a large degree. It accounts for the scent’s overall savory profile (as opposed to sweet).
More than anything, though, Salome reminds me of the female-sweat-soaked, musky Scent by Theo Fennell. In fact, what unites Salome, Theo Fennell Scent, and to a lesser degree, Musc Tonkin (in my mind) is the mental image I have of a group of ladies visiting each other in a formal front room in the early 1900s. It is a picture of repressed Victoriana – a room almost suffocating under the weight of dying flowers in vases, a certain “closed in” feel of an over-heated room, and stiff, rustling garments that haven’t been washed or aired recently.
And just below the surface, a massive wall of scent roiling off damp, heated womanflesh too long cooped up in restrictive brassieres and corsets. Although the room is heavily perfumed with roses and jasmine, there is something unhealthy and morbid about the atmosphere.
It’s just the type of perverseness I find sexy.
Overall, Salome has a very vintage vibe to it. If one were to subtract the brash cumin and one of the saltier animal secretions, then it would take up a more recognizably French, classical form. Underneath all the animal howling and beating of the breast, Salome is a chypre and as such has a dark, abstract structure to it that stops the dirtier elements from being a total pork fest. In its last gasps, Salome takes on the 1970’s feel of La Nuit by Paco Rabanne with its dank honey and moss tones.
Salome might be a remix rather than an original, but it reminds me that, in terms of sheer enjoyment, remixes can sometimes surpass or replace the original. I absolutely love it.