Oh dear. This is rather unfortunate.
I have huge respect for Francis Kurkdijan as a man and as a perfumer. I own quite a few of his perfumes (Absolue pour le Soir, Eau Noire, Cologne Pour Le Soir), and greedily covet others that I don’t (his original Oud, Oud Cashmere Mood, Lumiere Noire Pour Homme, Enlevement au Serail). I’m hard pressed to think of a composition of his that I can’t at least appreciate, even if I don’t want to own it myself.
Baccarat Rouge 540 is an exception. Unfortunately, it manages to be the perfect storm of all the notes I hate, all of them converging at once to screw with my head. And it sticks to my skin like glue (ain’t that the way it goes).
The top notes are pleasant, barely – a brief succulence in the form of oranges, saffron, and marigold that combines in such a way as to suggest a ripe red berry. For a moment, I am also reminded of the radiant freshness of his original Oud, a metallic brightness of spilled orange juice and yellow saffron powder. The jasmine here smells fresh, like a green-scent breeze moving through a line of cottons hung out to dry, and is reminiscent in its crispness of both Eau Sauvage and Kurkdijan’s own Aqua Vitae – safe to say that rather than jasmine sambac or grandiflorum, this note is probably Hedione, a wonderful aromachemical that expands the lungs with a radiant, green jasmine sensation.
Unfortunately, the fruity floral top notes get swallowed up almost immediately by the powerful basenotes – and when I say powerful, I mean overwhelming. There is a potent cedar here that reads as wet, pungent, almost musky with that sour edge I dislike in the note, and when it buts up against the sweet, juicy top notes, the result is like throwing a thick pear juice onto a bed of ashes. This unsettling accord (fruit juice thrown into dirty ashes) is also what I experience from Soleil de Jeddeh by Stephane Humbert Lucas 777, another fragrance I’m struggling to get my head around.
The musky, sour cedar is quickly joined by one of the most obnoxious notes in all perfumery (for me personally), fir balsam. This note might make others think of Christmas, but to me, it always makes me think of sweat. Each of the five times I tried Baccarat Rouge 540, it dried down to this thin but obnoxious smell of dried runner’s sweat – I know it’s the fir balsam because I’ve experienced this once before, with Annick Goutal’s otherwise very lovely Encens Flamboyant. Pure sweat. It’s a hard association to shake.
The saltiness from the Ambroxan or ambergris note (whatever it is) doesn’t help much either. Its salty mineral smell brings a pleasant outsdoorsiness, yes, but it also brings forward that sensation of feeling your skin crackle with dried sea salt, sweat, and sun tightness after falling asleep on the beach after a swim. Pleasant in perfumes such as Eau des Merveilles, but joined with the wet, musky cedar and the sweaty fir balsam of Baccarat Rouge 540, it’s simply one drop of sweat too much. Some will find this salt-sweat note very sensual, sexy even – but it just makes me want to go take a shower.
Oh my lord, thank you for restoring my sanity! I am not alone in this world. This little sample has, quite possibly, been my worst scrubber of all time. I used acetone. I used scalding hot water. I had to change my clothes and wash the shirt I was wearing, twice! And even still, I can detect subtle whiffs of it on the damn shirt. My god this thing is tenacious. I also have great respect and admiration for Mr. Kurkdjian, but Baccarat Rouge left me reeling. Unfortunately for me, my nose is not (yet?) as well trained as yours to exactly pin-point the source of my dismay. So I am infinitely grateful to have run into your review (and better yet, your wonderful blog). At very first sniff I was a bit shocked by the sweetness, all candy floss and orange candy, but not instantly repelled. Very quickly, however, I knew things were going to go south: I was slapped in the face with a powerful association to a very stinky office pal I had to share an enclosed space with for a couple of years. A nice guy actually, but the scent is seared into my brain and the mere thought of it makes me shudder. He either showered every two weeks, never washed his clothes, or both. To cover it up, he would dowse himself in some very cheap smelling, synthetic stuff, which I am now convinced was choc- full of ambroxan. You could smell it from two floors down. Now that I read about your experience with fir balsam, I am left wondering if it is that note that is replicating the stale sweat and that, married to the ambroxan, manages to perfectly replicate my worst smelly nightmare. I haven’t had issues with this note in other perfumes before. Mhhhh, things to study further (I am NEVER testing Baccarat again though :P). It was extremely enlightening to read your review, thank you so much for sharing, and it is very nice to meet you 🙂
Cat, boy, am I delighted to run into YOU 🙂 It seems that this particular fragrance has people split firmly down the seams, with the positive reviews so glowingly positive that I feel like I may have judged this too harshly. But then I remember what a trial it was to have this on my skin and I think that perhaps it’s like a dog whistle, but one for humans, operating at a frequency that most people can’t detect but that for a few people is extraordinarily loud or painful. Don’t give me too much credit for figuring out what the offending note is, though – my guess of the fir balsam could be way off (I’m going by the process of elimination rather than any specific nose super power). Anyway, your comment made me laugh, especially the bit about the stinky, sourly sweaty guy in your office. I am very glad to have met you too 🙂
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