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Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Adventures with Magic Mushrooms: DSH Perfumes Cuir et Champignon

By Donna

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 hopelessly disorganized jumbled eclectic stash I went to find some candidates.

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

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Blogger Tama said...

Interesting review! I just tried Aftelier Cepes and Tuberose, which is also mushroom, but with the sweeter flower. I almost can't imagine mushroom and leather! Pretty earthy. I like your experiments, too. I have yet to plunge into the DSH line - it's kind of overwhelming!

3:06 AM EST  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Cepes absolute is fascinating, but I don't know that I could wear it. There's been an uptick in perfumes with mushroom/meat notes lately, an interesting trend. I found the Honore de Pres I Love Les Carottes rather meaty, actually, since carrots do have a meaty/mushroomy tang. Although I'm not sure I can wear that one out of the house....

7:59 AM EST  
Anonymous Victoria said...

Donna, sounds very interesting! Like Tama, I tried Aftelier Cepes and Tuberose, which I found very intriguing.
Cuir et Champignon sounds even better, especially since I can see how leather and cepes absolute can work together.

9:14 AM EST  
Blogger Alyssa said...

What a fun review, Donna, I've been waiting to hear about this one--thanks!

1:31 PM EST  
Blogger pitbull friend said...

Great review, Donna. It leaves me really intrigued, but also a bit puzzled. If it's a "natural" perfume and contains civet, am I wrong in thinking that we're talking actually imprisoned civet cats having their glands scraped? I thought that was no longer done, but all I can find on her website is: "In the modern era, most perfumes with animal notes are manmade, non-animal synthetics and accords that are created to simulate the original scents." It carefully avoids saying what hers are. What do you think?

10:30 PM EST  
Anonymous beautytipshub said...

really like this post..Want to hear more from you in future @beautytipshub Thanks for this one:)

5:22 AM EST  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thank you, Donna, for the wonderful review of Cuir et Champignon and for your fabulous creativity in layering! I am going to have to check out some of your suggestions! :) I'd also like to mention that Cuir et Champignon isn't 100% botanical...there are some synthetics in this including the civet note. Thank you "pitbull friend" for pointing it out. (You should know that I am currently working on an all-natural, cruelty-free civet accord...coming soon).

11:27 AM EST  
Anonymous Marian said...

This sounds right up my alley, Donna. I think I'll enjoy it solo, but I also have a few 80s perfumes that might benefit from hefty dose of C et C! Thanks for being so creative!

1:36 PM EST  
Anonymous Flora said...

Tama, no matter which one you "plunge" into, it is bound to be interesting!

3:47 PM EST  
Anonymous Flora said...

Marla, I never thought of carrots that way, but now that you mention it, the mature roots do have some of that quality. Maybe that Carottes perfume is also a candidate for layering...?

3:49 PM EST  
Anonymous Flora said...

Victoria, I am curious about the Aftelier perfume! I am a tuberose freak anyway, so it just might work on me.

3:50 PM EST  
Anonymous Flora said...

Thanks Alyssa! I do love to test out the unusual scents, and this is the most "out there" one I have tried in a long time.

3:52 PM EST  
Anonymous Flora said...

Pitbullfriend, sorry i should have mentioned, DSH uses small amounts of synthetic "animal" notes in some of her perfumes, cruelty-free!

3:54 PM EST  
Anonymous Flora said...

Dawn, thanks for stopping by! I can't wait to see what your new civet accord smells like.

I still have a little bit of C et C left, thinking evil thoughts of combining it with the Civet Queen, Bal a Versailles, to see what happens. I will probably have to lock myself in the house! :-)

3:58 PM EST  
Anonymous Flora said...

Marian, thank you, I had so much fun with my mad mixing!

4:00 PM EST  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I wanted to love this. It ended up smelling like burnt, hot engine oil and cloves on my skin rather than leather and mushrooms.
Very disappointed :(

1:22 PM EST  

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