Hyde by Hiram Green is an exercise in birch tar. Actually, it’s an exercise in how to do birch tar without swamping the structure in an overwhelming wall of BBQ smoke. The scent opens with the peculiarities of rectified birch tar on full display: the tarriness of melted gumboots brushed with the cooling tingle of wintergreen and the medicinal sting of TCP (Germolene). A pleasantly boozy warmth, a licorice-like chewiness, stirs underneath the surface.
Hyde’s birch tar opening approaches the throaty creosote tenor of Lonestar Memories and Attar AT, both by Tauer Perfumes, but is much softer, more ‘broken in’ on the skin than the harsh syrupy-dry texture of the leather in Lonestar Memories. (If you love the grainy softness of the birch tar paste in Attar AT, though, you’re bound to feel right at home with Hyde). Given that it’s a material that typically roars like a lion in the opening of scents such as Patchouli 24 (Le Labo), I’m impressed with just how immediately wearable and soft the birch tar in Hyde is. It’s as if the leather has been passed down to us second-hand, already worn to nothing at the elbows, its chemically tanned rawness smoothed out with the passage of time. I’m not sure I believed in the possibility of birch tar smelling refined or subtle before I smelled Hyde.
Texture: dry, warm, with the matte dustiness of charcoal or wood charred to ash, fitted over a layer of semi-liquid tar. Its laconic, somewhat open texture creates air pockets in the fragrance, allowing other materials to step forward and be seen. Cassie absolute (true acacia) is an interesting material, you know? The notes for Hyde call it green and spicy, which is true, but based on my experience of it in Une Fleur de Cassie (Malle) and Farnesiana (Caron), I would further add these details:
- Cassie has a dry, floury texture with a distinct bleach-like note that can smell a bit ‘spermy’
- In contrast with the starchy texture described above, it also possesses a green ‘vase water’ aspect that smells like the dank botanical rot of the greenhouse
- A faint undercurrent of cumin or clove, which can lend the other notes a ‘fleshy’, human facet
- Doesn’t smell particularly floral, or even pretty
Interestingly, the notes with which cassie is paired seems to make a big difference in how the material plays out in the fragrance. In Une Fleur de Cassie, the interaction of the cassie absolute with a humid ylang creates a dry, animalic leather note, while in Farnesiana, the addition of a powdery mimosa and heliotrope gives the cassie a distinctive ‘school glue’ gumminess. Indeed, Farnesiana smells like an animalic school glue pen to me, with undertones of vegetable oil and candy, a description I recognize is probably unattractive to anyone but me.
In Hyde, the interaction of the warm, spicy cassie with the dry, smoky leather-rubber of the rectified birch tar just creates an impression of fullness. It’s as if the birch tar, bullish and austere on its own, has been fleshed out and softened in all the right places. Labdanum resin – the dry, leathery kind used in fragrances like Attaquer Le Soleil (Etat Libre d’Orange) rather than the sweet, toffee-ish kind used in Ambre Precieux (Maitre Parfumeur et Gantier) – is another key member of this supporting cast. The overall effect is of dusty, warm, and leathery sideline materials supporting dusty, warm, and leathery starring materials, overlapping layers that create a richer, fuller picture of birch tar leather than you’d normally find in birch-dominated scents.
Hyde dries down in a similar vein to Le Labo Patchouli 24, which is to say a sticky brown vanilla pod that’s been weathered by the elements. The vanilla is vanilla pod, not extract, with a salty-woody sweetness that smells naturally derived, as opposed to the fake, icecreamy coolness of vanillin. If you bake, then you’ll know that vanilla pod itself smells more like leather or wood, especially when freshly split down the middle. The vanilla in Hyde smells like vanilla pods that have been wrapped in calfskin and cured for decades in an oak barrel, before being exposed to salt air to force age them. The notes say malt, and I don’t know if it’s the power of suggestion (highly possible), but the minute I read that, I imagined I could also smell the wholesome, alfalfa-like nuttiness of a tin of Ovaltine, grown crusty and concentrated with age.
Hyde is remarkable to me in two ways. First, it approaches a sledgehammer of a material (birch tar) with subtlety and restraint, never allowing it to pummel the other notes into non-existence. I’m not a perfumer, but I’d imagine that birch tar is a particularly difficult material to work with, given its sheer strength and tendency to talk over everything else.
Second, its dry, smoky character seems to be perfectly balanced – it’s not a fragrance where you have to wait out the opening until it settles into something more wearable or even pleasant. It arrives on the skin fully formed, broken in, and thoroughly good-smelling. Nothing about its dryness feels like a hair shirt for my sins; it doesn’t scrape out the lining of my nostrils or make my throat feel like it’s closing over. It is immediately comfortable, relaxed, and debonair. I also like that its animalic facet is subtle, deriving from a flower rather than an animal, such as hyrax or castoreum.
As a birch tar fan and a sometimes admirer of cassie, it seems inevitable that I was going to like this, and indeed, I do (very much). But what of everyone else? First off, Hyde leans slightly to the masculine side of the spectrum, because of its dusty, leathery character, though I certainly think that many women will love it too. Despite the cassie, it doesn’t smell at all floral or flowery (nor does it have the sweaty female flesh aspect of Une Fleur de Cassie that many find difficult). Hyde is a leather through and through. Technically, it’s a Cuir de Russie type but far less floral than the Chanel and more in line with modern, tech-savvy birch tar scents like Black by Comme des Garcons or Patchouli 24 by Le Labo. Having said that, the medicinal TCP-and-wintergreen moment at the start reminds me quite a bit of Peau d’Espagne-style leathers, particularly Peau d’Espagne by Santa Maria Novella and maybe even a little of Tubereuse Criminelle by Serge Lutens, but that stage is almost too brief to mention. I think what most people will be relieved to hear, though, is that in employing a subtle, layered approach to birch tar, Hyde completely avoids that unfortunate BBQ facet that many find objectionable in birch tar-heavy scents.
Photo by frankie cordoba on Unsplash