Black Saffron is not what I expected at all. In fact, when my nose was hit with a burst of fruit syrup notes, I had to check the box that my sample came in twice. Yep – the words “black” and “saffron” were definitely there. But before I even had a chance to reach up to scratch my head in puzzlement, the scent did a crazy volte face. What I smelled was….. wood shavings in a heated, covered horse-riding arena. How odd! This eventually settled into a fine dusting of sawdust that coated the main accord of the scent – fruity violet leather – giving the entire fragrance an unusual kind of musky, ashy “mouthfeel”. Although I assume the dustiness is due to the saffron, I was unable to detect any of that spice’s usual medicinal aspects. In fact, despite the presence of both saffron and juniper berries, I was unable to pick up much spiciness at all. Here, they seem to manifest themselves more as a textural component (ash, dust) than as a flavoring agent.
The main part of this scent is an unusual leather accord built from a marriage between vetiver and raspberries, and little flickers of a green, musky violet. It is heady and beautiful, and I can smell each of the components distinctly. And I am psychically sending thanks to Ben Gorham at this stage, because whatever he has done with the violet, he has made sure that it does not bully the other notes into submission, as I often find violet to do.
Any combination of fruit, leather and violets would normally have me thinking of either Visa by Robert Piguet or Jolie Madame byBalmain, but Black Saffron is not as warmly symphonic as Visa, nor does it have the dark chypre character of the Balmain. It is both simpler and weirder than either of these. The raspberry and leather notes have many people comparing it to the great Tuscan Leather by Tom Ford Private Collection, but apart from those two notes, I don’t see the similarity – Tuscan Leather is far smokier and heavier than Black Saffron. The scent that Black Saffron reminds me most of is actually Caron’sLe Troisieme Homme. To be clear, these two do not smell alike per se – nor do they even belong to the same scent family – but the muskiness of Black Saffron’s raspberry-vetiver accord comes close to the almost pungent, musky aromatic mix of lavender, oakmoss, and vetiver in Le Troisieme Homme.
For the most part, though, I think Black Saffron stands alone. It is odd, for sure, and some parts of it are even beautiful. But it is unique. It also fits in very well with what I have come to consider the Bryedo aesthetic – very cool, Northern European in feel, post-modern in approach, and slightly challenging to wear. Bryedos are also quite synthetic and seem to make a virtue of that, in the same way that Comme des Garcons does, i.e., reveling in the strange and the man-made.
Would I wear it myself? No. I actually don’t consider this to be very wearable, and I will tell you why: Black Saffron has a problem with volume control.
Once the dust of the saffron meets the fruity violets and leather, the basic tone of the scent is set. It sings out in a high, true register. But just when you expect the central accord to start fading down, it just keeps getting louder and louder. It’s like being at the dregs of a good party, everyone’s tired and ready to head home, yet there’s that one annoying guy who wants to keep the party going so he walks over to the stereo and ramps the volume way up. But nobody wants to dance anymore.
I blame the cashmeran in the base. Cashmeran is a very useful tool in the modern perfumer’s kit – called “blond woods” in marketing speak, it is actually a synthetic musk material that can be used to enhance and amplify other notes in a composition. It adds radiance to rose and saffron notes in particular. Now, I don’t mind cashmeran, and I am not particularly sensitive to it (one of my favorite perfumes, Perles de Lalique, contains a great deal of it). I kind of like its “wet concrete” smell. But here, I find that it turns the acoustics up to headache proportions. The sweetness of the raspberries and the fruitiness of the violets turn to syrup. In the end, I was weary of the smell and wanted to be done with it.
This is not for me, personally, but I am willing to bet that I have just described someone’s idea of heaven – and more power to them. Byredo is an interesting niche outfit, and strangely enough, it seems to be a company that is more widely embraced by the wider public and “cool” celebrities than those in the diehard niche fragrance community. I am not sure I understand all the frag-head scorn; Bryedo has just about as many misses as hits, I guess, but so does Creed and Bond No. 9, and they don’t get half the flak that Bryedo does. I have smelled six Bryedos now, out of which three have been extremely interesting (1996, M/Mink, Black Saffron) and one has been full bottle worthy (1996). That just about matches my odds on houses like Serge Lutens and Comme des Garcons, by the way.