Perfume Directory

Zen (original / black) (1964)
by Shiseido


Zen (original / black) information

Year of Launch1964
Average Rating
(based on 77 votes)

People and companies

PerfumerJosephine Catapano

About Zen (original / black)

The Tokyo Olympics stirred a resurgence of interest in Japanese taste in the West, and Shiseido began developing cosmetics oriented to these overseas markets. Among these was the fragrance Zen, named for a religious philosophy well known in the West and often associated with the essence of Japanese culture. The bottle's understated black lacquer background and gilded images of autumn fields and gardens (based on motifs found at Kodai temple) were designed to evoke a mysterious sense of Oriental subtlety and profundity.

Zen (original / black) fragrance notes

Reviews of Zen (original / black)

Jasmin bouquet and black rubber; which is both nice - and interesting at the same time. At first it recalls Breath of God and Bulgari Black - but more wearable - and then it takes a woody oriental direction with the rubber thinning out to aldehydes. Overall it's pretty good, but the base could have been less Oriental and more Far East.

This bottle of the 1964 juice feels remarkably modern, which may have been thanks to some neat Japanese art direction, or maybe the formula had been tweaked in Paris to bring it up to date. Whatever happened, in 2007 they ditched the Josephine Catapano version and brought out something else in its place.


Eau de Cologne splash bottle
13th June, 2019 (last edited: 16th August, 2019)
Top Notes: Orange Blossom, Galbanum, Hyacinth, Bergamot.

Heart Notes: Mimosa, Carnation, Violet, Orris Root, Jasmine, Rose, Narcissus.

Base Notes: Sandalwood, Amber, Musk, Oak Moss, Cedar.

This review is for the vintage eau de cologne.

As this is an eau de cologne, I could have been knocked over with a feather upon application because it smells more like a powerhouse vintage eau de parfum and a very "perfumey" one at that. On my skin, Zen opened with strong notes of oak moss, galbanum, cedar, and hyacinth---so very green and woody. These notes persist into the dry down on me. I am able to detect a fairly strong narcissus, a bit of violet, and a bit of orris root, but I am unable to detect orange blossom, mimosa, carnation, amber, or musk. Oak moss is by far the most dominant note in this fragrance, followed by galbanum, cedar, and then hyacinth.

Zen is an overwhelmingly green and woody fragrance in my opinion. It epitomises "old school," strong, perfumey fragrances. It preceeds the wearer by at least five feet. It does not smell at all modern, sweet, and certainly has no gourmand traces whatsoever.

Zen was first launched in 1964, but it easily could be from an even earlier era. I do not hate it, but it certainly is not a love. Just a few dabs on the back of one arm gave me a headache--the same sort of headache that came to me so often in the 1970s and 1980s. I plan to test it a few more times before I reach a final conclusion, but for now, I find it to be very strong, and very perfumey in a very old fashioned way. The floral notes are not at all sweet, and the woody notes are extremely dry. I am not sure this is a fragrance I would wear very often. I do not find it to be either office friendly or enclosed spaces friendly at all. I think it would be safest worn out of doors in cool to cold weather conditions. If trapped on an elevator with someone who was wearing it, I think I would pass out. I quite like the bottle, though.

Zen is most definitely a try before you buy type of fragrance. If you like very green, woody, dry, rather heavy, non-sweet, sharpish, old school, perfumey fragrances, then Zen would right up your street. This is not a mesmerisingly feminine Guerlain or Chanel type floral. It has the "in your face" strength of vintage Bal á Versailles, and like Bal á Versailles, I fear it is not right for me personally. I have awarded it a neutral rating because it has excellent performance and because it has held up extremely well--my bottle is pre-barcode--and it appears to have few if any synthetic notes.

Fragrance: 5/10

Projection: 7/10

Sillage: 8/10

Longevity: 9/10
27th October, 2017
The original vintage Zen is worlds different from the vile new version.

Again Barbara Herman describes it correctly: "Fruity floral…fruit and flower notes, …then rich, plummy plushness…bright, fruity, floral, spicy, warm, ambery."

Turin gave it 3 stars and called it a "fruity woody,…a perfect woody rose."

Top notes: Bergamot, Galbanum, Neroli
Heart notes: Jasmine, Rose, Narcissus, Violet, Orris, Mimosa, Hyacinth, Carnation
Base notes: Sandalwood, Cedar, Oakmoss, Amber, Musk

I wouldn't call this a chypre as Herman did. It is certainly a lovely, light mix of fruit and florals - very light - perfect for a summer's day or evening. The pluminess seems to come from the mix of neroli, rose and mimosa.

This is very nice, but only okay, not exceptional in any way. It certainly has a place in the perfume world alongside the light fruity floral Diors. Why a company would discontinue it and then dupe the public with a new version that is totally unlike the original and in and of itself a piece of crap makes me wish there were a world of perfume police to heavily fine or imprison those responsible for these travesties that proliferate in the world of scent.

Look on Ebay for the tall black bottle and avoid the new amber cube bottle.
10th August, 2014 (last edited: 08th December, 2014)
I loved this fragrance! For some reason it always reminded me of a bunch of tuberose, although it's not part of its composition. It made me feel playfully indolent and dangerous, rather like a tiger playing with a favorite toy.
I bought the new version with the same name and almost cried. The new junk is weak, overly sweet and synthetic.
Oh, that Shiseido would bring back the original!
11th July, 2014
Genre: Floral

Smelling Zen Classic for the first time is a revelation. I find it hard to fathom that this scent was released in 1964. Even now, nearly fifty years later, it smells not only utterly original, but absolutely contemporary. Sampling it blind, I’d have no trouble believing it the latest entry from Eau d’Italie, Frédéric Malle, or Parfumerie Générale – even a new addition to Chanel’s Les Exclusifs. Its arrival at so early a date resets my perspective on the history of fragrance.

Zen Classic is built on an oddly austere dry rose accord, smoky, phenolic woods and resins, and a warm, faintly animalic musk. True to its name, Zen Classic strikes a perfect balance on several fronts: between the elegance of its rose and the animalic
warmth of its musk; between the darkness of smoke and the subdued glow of labdanum; between the dry bitterness of woods and the sweetness of floral notes and resins; between power and transparency.

While I smell no frankincense in Zen, its reliance upon woods, its predominantly dark tint, and its overall mood and texture align it more closely with contemporary incense-rose compositions like Paestum Rose and Cabaret than with Paris, Knowing, or the other huge fruity rose chypres of the intervening decades. It’s as if perfume evolution skipped ahead by nearly a half a century.

With its exquisitely poised equilibrium, Zen Classic transcends not only time, but olfactory gender boundaries. I’d certainly have no problem wearing it in public, nor do I imagine would any male who’s comfortable with dandified “masculine” rose scents like Hammam Bouquet or Czech & Speake No. 88, most of which are far less subtle and refined Zen.
09th July, 2014
I am describing the older black bottle original classic. I LOVE this. This is a mysterious thorn ridden, bewitching lacquered rose. It is somehow imperious and heated.It is somehow bringing up associations of holiday seasonal magic. It exists in a timeless thrilling world.
08th April, 2013

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