Shiseido Feminite du Bois
Notes: (from Bois de Jasmin) cedarwood, orange blossom, rose, violet, honey, plum, beeswax, clove, cardamom, cinnamon
I used to own Feminite du Bois EDP, the original release by Shiseido. It is actually a Serge Lutens/Christopher Sheldrake creation, and originally came in a gorgeous dusky purple bottle with a curvy smooth shape that reminds me of a Brancusi sculpture. I have read several conflicting reports that it has been discontinued, or has limited distribution in countries other than the US, or some such. I also read a Serge Lutens news story or interview in which SL explicitly stated FdB would be re-released through the SL export line (can't remember where I saw it, and now I can't find it). I hope this is the truth, and I hope they don't mess with the formula or strength!
I never knew about Lutens before I started exploring perfumes in depth here on BN and other sites. I bought FdB simply because I loved it, and nothing else I was testing at the time came close to the complexity, modernity and originality of FdB. I later found out that SL sketched out some other fragrances inspired by FdB, and these are currently in the non-export line. Of the ones I tried, the following come closest to FdB, especially in the drydown: Bois de Violette, Bois et Fruits, Bois et Musc. Bois Oriental and Un Bois Vanille are supposedly also based on the FdB structure, but to me, these did not seem as similar in tone. Another Sheldrake creation which has the FdB drydown is Christian Dior Dolce Vita.
Upon first application, FdB is immediately spicy, penetrating, sharp and woody. I can smell cinnamon and clove, cedar, and something that makes the wood seem sweet and creamy--could be the beeswax mentioned in the notes. I do smell something that seems a bit like the deeply resinous and vaguely honey-like beeswax I have smelled in pure beeswax candles. To my nose, the cedar is very well done, not like pencil shavings or hamster cage litter. I have read that FdB uses Iso E Super, so this could be the reason that the cedar note has the smooth quality it does. Also, in the past, I remember FdB going through a sweaty cumin stage between the top and middle notes, but I am not smelling that today.
As it dries, the violet and fruits come out. The violet is slightly floral, not overly sweet, and is definitely not the candied violet in Bois de Violette. The fruit seems dried, like prunes or raisins. I am sure listing "prune" in the notes is not very glamorous, but the scent of prune-plums is one of my all time favorites, and I always loved opening a can of prune-plums in syrup so I could get the first whiffs. So, plum it is, but definitely not like the plums you get from the produce section of the grocery store. The beeswax is also a bit more prominent now. It seems to be a wonderful alternative to using resins or vanilla to pull things together.
FdB develops fairly quickly, and the drydown stage is gorgeous--mild cedar and spice mixture, and the lingering sweetness of beeswax. I would say cinnamon is the dominant spice note, and it gives the drydown some bite. However, the cardamom and clove soften the edges a little bit, fade into the background, and seem to almost become part of the wood more than the spice mixture. I don't know why I never realized before that the beeswax was the resinous unifier in this fragrance. The FdB base is so different than the typical amber oriental base of labdanum, vanilla and benzoin (or other resins). Upon further reflection, if the amber base were broken into resinous, woody and balsamic parts, I think all of these roles are filled by the beeswax, cedar and cardamom. Perhaps this is what Luca Turin meant when he referred to this base as an alternative oriental.
One fragrance map I have seen places FdB in the fruity chypre family. I suppose if the definition of an oriental is something with an amber accord in the base, then this might not be the right category for FdB. However, it has the depth and complexity of an oriental, and in some ways also has the heavyness. I think it was ahead of its time, at least for US customers. And I can see why it might not do very well here--it is definitely not a superficial fragrance, and some may find it very challenging. Sillage and longevity are moderate, but since I love the creamy, woody, spicy drydown, I don't mind getting there quickly!