My first impression of Francesca Bianchi’s Under My Skin was that of a milky sandalwood over something vegetal and spicy, like a dish of Chinese greens simmered with lots of black pepper and fenugreek. But like Santal de Mysore, which it resembles in some parts, Under My Skin reads like two different perfumes – one when sniffed closely on the skin, and the other sniffed as an aura or a trail of scent on the air.
I find the dichotomy between the two sides enthralling. What emerges in the air is a glow of milky-sweet sandalwood, like the breath of a breast-fed child, but with an undertone of something even more intimate – a faint hint of young sweat perhaps, or the yeasty, buttery smell of a baby’s nape before his bath. This accord is both nursery-ish and sensual in the original, non-sexual sense of the word, meaning it is physically satisfying to the senses in the same way certain colors, fabrics, textures, and aromas are.
Smell the perfume close up, however, and the sweet milkiness disappears, leaving behind the scent of rooty, vegetal iris and a skin note that flits between the doughy rubber of suede and the tannic smokiness of castoreum-driven leather. There is also the unmistakable glow of an ambergris note here, which manifests as silvery driftwood, giving the scent the intimate air of a closed-up professor’s study, full of old marking papers, books, and ancient wooden furniture that’s seen better days.
This base is also, to my nose, quite spicy, with lots of black pepper, cinnamon, fenugreek, and clove (or carnation) adding to the exciting textural bitterness I sense. When the spice and rooty, vegetal iris meet the milkiness of the sandalwood aura, it’s hard not to think of Santal de Mysore. But given that’s one of my favorite perfumes in the world, I can’t think of higher praise.
Under My Skin also reminds me (slightly) of Amaranthine by Penhaligon’s, another big love of mine, especially in the way it juxtaposes the milkiness of a dairy-rich pudding with more sensual notes such as cumin and banana leaf to produce an accord that many people feel smells like the inner thigh of a woman (Amaranthine used to be hilariously referred to as “Amaranthigh” on many perfume blogs). Under My Skin achieves a similar effect in that it smells milkily sensual without smelling dirty, pungent, or overtly animalic.
In fact, Under My Skin is what I imagined L’Air de Rien by Miller Harris would smell like when I read the reviews, mostly a collection of intimate but not necessarily sexual smells of an established household – a loved one’s hair, the smell of old wooden floorboards, the scent of your baby’s head, piles of books, unwashed sheets, and so on. When I finally smelled L’Air de Rien, after years of longing to smell it, it was a huge letdown to me, because it smelled more of greasy scalp and sweetish radiator dust than the “shabby chic” scene I’d imagined. But Under My Skin smells of intimacy in the best way possible, an idealized notion of milky sweat, buttery baby skin, worn suede, and old wood.
I rarely cite the perfumer’s take on a perfume, preferring instead to lean on my own interpretation of what I’m smelling. But in this case, Francesca Bianchi’s description of the scent and of the inspiration behind it matches so perfectly the experience of the scent that it makes sense to highlight what she herself says about it:
“Under My Skin is my interpretation of the animalic theme. I started working on it around 2 years ago. I was charmed by strong animalic scents, and I tried to do my own; but I had to realize that what I like in other’s creations is not necessarily what I like to create myself. So after adding materials going into the heavy or sweet or stable-like animalic theme, I had to eliminate them little by little, and arrive to this solution which suits me the best: a leathery, slightly animalic, powdery one, a velvety and elegant take. It goes along with my personality and my style and when I finally realized that this was my way, I was finally happy and relieved. The name comes from a conversation with an artist and fragrance lover, who told me it was as if the scent emanates from skin, rather than being sprayed from outside. This concept of ‘Under My Skin’ reinforced my path of going into something more subtly ’human’ than overtly ‘animal’.”
And that describes Under My Skin to a T. The fragrance is sensual in a clean, innocent way that stands in marked contrast to more overtly animalic fragrances, such as Marlou’s (50ml) d’Ambiguïté or even Salome by Papillon, both fragrances that I admire and respect, but find challenging to wear on a regular basis. That means that I also, like Francesca herself, am relieved and happy that all the shoutier animalics were pared back until she arrived at this velveteen result.
Under My Skin belongs to a category of milky, kitten-paw-ish, or gentled-furred perfumes that smell more human than animal, such as Amaranthine (Penhaligon’s), L’Ombre Fauve (Parfumerie Generale), Musc Nomade (Annick Goutal), and Helmut Lang EDP (Helmut Lang). It is one of my favorite categories, or sub-categories of perfume, and so it is no surprise that I absolutely love Under My Skin. In a year that’s seen a plethora of incredible perfumes coming out of the indie sector, this is by far my favorite.