Bruno Fazzolari Feu Secret opens with the balsamic, fruity tang of fir balsam, jammy and bitter in equal measure. Underscored with the earthy tang of turmeric, the coniferous notes feel unfamiliar, because the combination smells simultaneously earthy, green, sweet and waxy, like a piece of fruit dropped into a bag of powdered herbs.
The opening notes serve as a momentary distraction, because soon the orris root takes center stage and it is so present that you begin to question if there was ever a time when it wasn’t there. This is a magnificent iris note. It is rooty and raw, with the stinging purity of orris butter, but nowhere near as punishing as the hair shirt that is Iris Silver Mist (Serge Lutens). Instead, there is a sweet doughy underbelly to the iris that smells like warm bread and a pleasant dustiness that lets in the air, while also sidestepping any lipstick or cosmetic references. The earthiness of the spice brings it closer to the iris note in Iris 39 (Le Labo) than to Iris Silver Mist. Think a chunk of iris butter on freshly turned earth in a Scandinavian forest, the perfect Bohemian rhapsody between cool and warm.
Let’s talk about the eucalyptus note. I have to admit that eucalyptus is one of my least favorite notes, and the only perfumes that I enjoy with this note are the rare examples that don’t allow it to completely dominate the composition, such as Carnal Flower (Les Editions de Parfums Frederic Malle) and Ambra Nera (Farmacia SS. Annunziata). But Feu Secret joins the ranks of this very small club by handling it in such an intelligent way that it never takes over the fragrance.
Instead, there is a neat trick at play here where the eucalyptus gives you a different experience on the inhale to the exhale. It smells like nose-clearing tiger balm on the inhale, and like peach skin on the exhale. The only other time I’ve noticed the duality of a material like this in a fragrance was in La Myrrhe (Serge Lutens), where the myrrh hits the nose as orange peel and sour cherry on the inhale, and freshly cut mushrooms on the exhale. In Feu Secret, this dual effect is really quite striking, suggestive as it is of both freshness and warmth, which is unusual in an iris-based composition.
For the longest time, what predominates in Feu Secret is the doughy iris, earthy spice, and the silvery sheen of that dual-effect eucalyptus/peach. But there is also a rubbery, squeaky texture that creeps up on the scent that I like very much, like the undersole of a kid’s sneaker and the breath of someone chewing wintergreen gum. It’s fun, and lends a welcome dab of playfulness to the composition.
If I came for the iris, then I stayed for the woods. Feu Secret effortlessly outclasses Royal Oud (Creed) for its beautiful and well-judged mix of green Australian sandalwood and smoky cedarwood in the far drydown, which smells like freshly milled lumber, coconut milk, fir balsam, and bitter cocoa powder. The baking hot smokiness of the cedar interacts with the milkiness of the sandalwood and chill of the iris for a slight “fire and ice” effect that’s very pleasing. It is not foody, but damn, it’s toothsome. I want to bite into it. Technically, there’s no sandalwood listed, but there is something about the combination of notes that suggests it, especially the coniferous bite and slightly sour coconut milk undertones of the Australian type. The affable mingling of milky, green-coconutty sandalwood and bitter, chocolatey cedarwood adds up to a Tam Dao-ish or even Royal Oud-ish effect, but with the added benefit of naturalness (of feel, at least).
As much as I liked Ummagumma, I like Feu Secret even more. Something about its easygoing character and I-smell-great-without-trying casualness lends itself more easily to everyday wear. What I particularly enjoy is its series of transitions from green to dusty to doughy to peachy to rubbery and finally to milky. Texture is as important as aroma in a fragrance, to me, and Feu Secret has it in spades.
It’s difficult, especially for an indie, to do an iris that represents something new for the genre, but this and New Sibet (Slumberhouse) are two shining examples of how it can be done. Feu Secret is remarkable for its skillful management of notes that, on paper, seem to threaten a brutal takeover of the iris but in fact flank it perfectly, like the most self-effacing bridesmaids ever, reflecting all the light back onto the bride. If Bruno Fazzolari ever releases this in the mini travel size, then I’m buying it.