Adventures with Magic Mushrooms: DSH Perfumes Cuir et Champignon
As the regular readers of this blog may remember, I am a big fan of the fragrance creations of Dawn Spencer Hurwitz of DSH Perfumes. Her range is enviably broad, and she has the unique perspective of a talented visual artist, which has resulted in some truly innovative fusions of scent and color concepts. One of her talents is making fully realized perfumes using all-natural ingredients, although you would never miss the synthetics even if you already knew about that.
Now she has released yet another eagerly anticipated perfume that is different from anything I have ever smelled before – Cuir et Champignon, leather and mushroom. That's it – no sweetness at all except for a fleeting breath of forest aroma before it goes on the skin, then it quickly develops into a salty, savory, brothy blend of soft leather and very earthy mushroom. The mushroom note dominates at first, and then gradually the leather joins it as it softens down. In fact it is the saltiest perfume I have ever smelled; it leaves TDC's Sel de Vetiver in the dust in that respect, and Womanity by Thierry Mugler only allows a fleeting glimpse of its much-vaunted caviar note before it's buried in sugary sweetness, which was a disappointment for me. Cuir et Champignon has an almost meaty “taste” to it, which is the flavor called Umami, borrowed from the Japanese language, and it does take some adjustment to think of it as perfume, especially at first before the leather kicks in. I enjoyed wearing it by itself, when it eventually dried down to smooth leather and loamy earth, but the other notes listed never really developed on me – of course it's not all mushroom and leather, it has things like bergamot, clary sage, galbanum, chamomile, clove bud, honey, gardenia, sandalwood, tuberose, castoreum, civet, vetiver, guaic wood, cedar and tobacco. I didn't get these very much, because on my skin it's just mostly mushroom; that cépes absolute is mighty powerful stuff.
So anyway, I decided to try layering it with some other perfumes to see what would happen. I do not normally do much with perfume combining and it's usually an accident when it happens; if I forget that I put on something really persistent in the evening and then apply something else in the morning, I get a surprise. I generally go with the idea that the perfumer knew what they were doing and who am I to mess around with the delicate balance, but in this case I could not resist. Since Cuir et Champignon is salty, savory and earthy, I thought it would be perfect for toning down perfume that's a little (or a lot) too sweet or loud. Whatever I chose would need to have a strong character of its own to stand up to the cépes and have some compatible notes. I hit upon the idea of pairing it with some big-haired Eighties fragrances, and into my
My first experiment was conducted with the original Salvador Dali woman’s perfume from 1983, the one in the “lips” bottle with a white frosted “nose” cap. It's a floral/woody/ambery Oriental with a pleasing softness to it, but really very sweet, kind of like a slightly less extroverted Bijan for Women. Well, putting these two together was alchemy indeed, because I got something that had the firepower of the old Lanvin My Sin (remember, there is civet in Cuir et Champignon) while toning down the rather syrupy aspect of the Dali. (I found out that Alberto Morillas did that one, not exactly the style he is known for now but it makes me admire him even more.) Okay, I was really on to something here.
Next up, Aubusson's Désirade from 1990 – technically still in the Eighties and certainly in the style of the time, it's an Oriental perfume with pineapple, cassia, tuberose, osmanthus, lots of vanilla, opoponax, musk – you get the idea, big and bright and retro. It's something I love to wear at home or out, but never to the office, it's just too much. I tamed her with the mushrooms and the result actually reminded me of a Guerlain, an echo of Cuir Béluga with its leather note softened by heliotrope and vanilla. Now I don't have to spring for the Guerlain if I get the craving for it, I just need to keep these other two handy.
Then I got another wild idea – if Eighties perfumes can be quieted down this way, why not go even older and try it with an actual Guerlain? So I tried it out with my pre-reformulation Shalimar Parfum de Toilette. Oh yeah, baby! It made the grande dame even smokier and even a bit feral, and I got a little shadow of melancholy L' Heure Bleue action going on. Now I love Shalimar, but sometimes it gets too sweet on me, many things do; if there is any sweetness in a fragrance my skin will amp it up and throw it out there like radio waves. (I usually like it when that happens but sometimes I have to try to be civilized around other people and I can't fly my fragrance freak flag.) After blending Shalimar with the mushroom scent I think I will have to try it with Lonestar Memories or some other smoky, tarry thing with no discernible sugary notes and see what happens.
At this point my mind wandered into truly twisted territory. What if I mixed this earthy, humusy forest floor scent with something else that's also devoid of “feminine” character? What would happen if there was no vanilla or Tonka, no caramel or syrup to subdue? I thought about that for a while, and then it hit me: Miss Balmain, the most misunderstood of all chypre scents, dry and austere, a stiletto-heeled librarian forever in the shadow of her femme fatale sister Jolie Madame. I am happy to report that this was also a success. The truly magical combination coaxed some fragile blossoms out of Miss Balmain's steely heart and softened her up without adding anything remotely girly to her demeanor, while adding a green depth that seemed like it was meant to be, perhaps restoring what was lost in translation when Balmain started reformulating its fragrance line. (My bottle is pre-IFRA nonsense but not the original formula.) I felt like a genius after that experiment.
Finally, I came full circle and pondered if anything else in the DSH line would be a good foil for Cuir et Champignon. With such a wide range from which to choose, surely something would be suitable. I chose her very popular Cimabue, which is an intensely spicy and saffron-rich concoction that I did not quite get along with in the alcohol-based version but which I swooned over in the oil concentration, which is what I used for the layering. Well, it actually worked pretty well, adding an unexpected fresh note to the spices and taking the sweetness down several notches, which in turn shone a spotlight on the saffron and cistus at the expense of the sweeter ingredients. Cimabue is already a favorite with men, and I can imagine that they might be interested in an alternate way to wear it.
My conclusion was that this is really two perfumes in one. For those who want to wear it by itself, it becomes an earthy skin scent with little to no sweetness and decent longevity. It also shines as a way to tame the high notes of fragrances that could use a bit of smoothing out to make them more wearable while not obscuring their better qualities. It is a limited edition fragrance sold only at the DSH Perfumes Web site. One ounce of Eau de Parfum, which is what my sample is, is $100, and a one dram roller ball vial of the oil is $55; I can't even imagine how intense that must be! (Smaller sizes and a $4.00 sample vial are also available.) My small sample vial was sent to me by DSH for review purposes.
Image credit: Ceramic “Magic Mushrooms” from love♥janine's Flickr photostream via Creative Commons license, some rights reserved.By Donna