CoSTUME NATIONAL 21 is what you'd imagine robots in a lab in far future would come up with if asked to produce a cashmere sweater scent, and they only had access to a boatload of synthetics and a handful of ‘vintage’ natural materials. On the surface, it’s warm and fuzzy, but there are dark currents and sharp edges underneath. I like it because it’s exactly the kind of thing I want to wear when I want to feel comforted but don’t want to be lulled into complete torpor. It's cozy but edgy.
This fragrance has layers and layers, not all of them easy to make out, so I’ll start at the top and work my way down. The opening is fruity, spicy, and woody, like a spoonful of mandarin jam spiked with dusty saffron and cinnamon. The mandarin rind and saffron combine with woody accents in a way that suggests booze. In fact, every time I put it on, I’m reminded (initially) of the orange rind and rum opening of Idole de Lubin. Immediately, though, it moves on from the boozy opening and this spoonful of fruity puree is dropped into a warm glass of milky white musk and sweet amber, and stirred through. Cashmeran, tonka beans, and vanilla join the party, and this whole layer becomes a white noise of fizzing but creamy white musk, orange-tinted milkshake, vanilla custard, sweet amber, and cozy wood accents. The texture is a thing of wonder – almost fuzzy to the touch, warm, silky, expansive – and yet, put your fingers to the wool and you will feel little spikes sticking out.
In fact, 21 would be a soporific, over-simple gourmand treat were it not for the incredible base that the robots put together to fit underneath the cashmere sweater layer. Somehow, they stumbled across a small cache of organic, vintage materials on some planetary outpost, probably stuff used to make men’s powerhouse colognes in the 1970s – vetiver, moss, patchouli, clary sage, cedar, and caraway. The base provides a bitter, mossy, earthy counterpoint to the vanillic layers floating on top of it, and the scent is all the better for it. In fact, there is a musky, mossy feel to this that recalls the dark undertow of Caron’s musky Third Man, minus the fougere-ish elements of courmarin and lavender.
The overall effect is therefore of a thick blanket of fuzzy, synthetic, sweet ‘white noise’ overlaid on a natural-feeling, organic base of mossy woods, musk, vetiver, and herbs – light and dark, natural and synthetic, female and male. The drydown is a protracted affair of salty, mineralic moss and a masculine musk. It’s a truly modern marvel of yin and yang. The robots done good.
This is a dusty, powdery, peppery, sweet fragrance, & very autumnal in feel. Many reviews describe it as having a kind of creamy milk pudding vibe, but that's not what l get here. What l get is a sheer, woody patchouli in the opening, followed by a smooth heart rich with labdanum & tonka. A couple of hours in there's a touch of orange, & at this stage it reminds me a little of Anne Pliska. There's amber, sandalwood & moss in the base, & although it's not listed, l get a distinct whiff of tobacco. The moderate sillage lasts around five hours before fading close to the skin, & it's still there after twelve hours.
l find this one deliciously comforting, & look forward to using up my sample during the autumn days to come.
When a perfume is this hazy and fuzzy, talking about the notes conveys little of its experience. To call it milky is to say that it is blurred, a chemical whiteout teeming with notes most of them indistinct, but yet warm, powdery, vaporous and comforting. And here the craft is evident – this combination is so far removed from nature or anything one usually smells and yet it is immediately appreciated by my nose.
21 is like that sweetened glass of milk with a shot of something indistinct but potent lurking within that warms and gives a bit of a kick. For my money it is the incense operating below the radar, but others may equally point at woody or spice accents.
Thoroughly enjoyable for about 3 hours, but the deep drydown is disconcertingly flat.
The opening of 21 is not far from Scent Intense to some extent. An elusive and captivating potion of synthetics and naturals which smells completely new and futuristic to me, chic, modern, clean but not minimalist, rather dense and tasty. Basically it's a complex, yet incredibly harmonic and tight blend of milky white musks, violet, bergamot, perhaps aniseed, cedar and aromatic cozy woods (cashmeran), a patchouli note transfigured in a silky and dusty satin "synthesis" of it... Then vanillin, tonka, a tiny fruity heart halfway zesty, plummy and peachy (this is the main thing in common with Scent Intense, apart from the general style). Finally a light cumin spicy breeze arises, airy and thin. The contrasting interplay between the silky musks, the flowers, the spices and the dusty base notes is pure elegance and genius. Deeply aromatic and compact, some notes smell clear and sharp, some other incredibly blended one into another, the result is an utterly elegant, irresistible, milky, narcotic and dusty concoction, pure and pale but sexy and shady at the same time. A salty-mineral note of aldehydes gives the structure a contemporary metallic, almost iodine feel. Splendid materials and a talented nose for a refined, versatile, classy, sexy, incredibly good smelling, totally and genuinely "new", finally also decently-priced scent... What would you ask more?
18th June, 2014 (last edited: 03rd August, 2014)
A very nice, feminine scent that projects like a beast. The black pepper note really sets it off to give it that edge. Think of vanilla milk with black pepper. But you can definitely pick up citrusy notes during all stages of the fragrance. Longevity can sometimes be spotty, but I usually get great performance from this fragrance.