Every now and then you come across such a storm of interest around a fragrance that you just have to plonk down your money, buy blind, and hope to God that what you get is every bit as wonderful as people say it is. Often, these fragrances are only available to you through a complicated system of secret handshakes and Chinese whispers. Such is the case with Sensei by Piotr Czarnecki, which until a week ago was only available through a perfumer’s contact on Facebook or through a splitter with the right contacts. As an example of the sort of madness we are talking about here, my sample came from a bottle that had been flown from Poland all the way to California, and then all the way back to Montenegro, which is, may I remind you all, IS ONLY A FEW HUNDRED METERS AWAY FROM BLOODY POLAND.
That’s a sort of madness right there, guys.
So why go to such great lengths to smell something blind? Well, for one thing, we fragrance freaks have all the personality characteristics of early adopters – we need to feel like we are getting in on the ground floor of the next big thing. The idea of being allowed to smell the Beta version of a scent – any scent – thrills us. Add to that the lure of an eye-catching (if slightly gimmicky) presentation, the extreme difficulty of actually tracking down a sample, and the charming back story of how a dance teacher in Poland came to create a perfume – well, it had all the ingredients necessary for a hype storm of epic proportions.
Is the hype justified? Yes. It’s a really good scent, perhaps even a great one. It is a very masculine fragrance, which is to say that it references traditionally masculine smells like whiskey, black coffee, and tobacco leaves, but a woman who likes these sorts of notes would have absolutely no trouble pulling it off.
Smelling it blind the first time around, I jotted down all the notes I thought I could identify, which were as follows: Irish whisky, dried fruit, black Russian tea, unflavored tobacco leaves raw and wet, leather, woods, and the resinous edge of a cinnamon stick. Interestingly, though, there is no black tea or dried fruits anywhere in this. The only explanation I can come up with is that tobacco leaves, when presented as raw and as wet as they are here, do have a sort of tannic edge to them that resembles black tea, and they also smell somewhat fruity. I couldn’t pick up on the coffee note the first few times, either, probably because my nose was reading it as dark woods – for me, coffee is first and foremost a dark, woody smell, and not a chocolate-gourmand smell at all. In general, though, Sensei just reminds me of how great a smell tobacco is, and how multi-faceted.
The opening blast is almost unpleasantly boozy and dense, like Christmas cake, but the dry-down is absolutely gorgeous. Once the booze and wet tobacco leaves settle down a bit, it becomes drier and sweeter, eventually thinning out to become a gauzy, transparent woody-tobacco scent that I find deeply comforting. No matter the concentration, Sensei reaches its light, sheer dry down in a mere matter of hours, and does not have the sort of sillage that will invade anybody’s personal space.
So, yes, Sensei is really very good. It is wholly deserving of all the rave reviews it is getting, but it does not, in my humble opinion, justify the frenzied hype surrounding it, for the simple reason that, while it is beautiful, it is not unique. For me, Sensei is simply too reminiscent of different parts of other perfumes I already own and love to ever warrant me buying a bottle (or bottles, I should say). The black tea samovar and booze feel strongly recalls Parfums d’Empire’s incredible Ambre Russe, which is one of my favorite perfumes. The raw tobacco and slightly leathery, dirty labdanum dry down reminds me of Sonoma Scent Studio’s infinitely more severe but also more beautiful Tabac Aurea, and the woody cinnamon parts remind me (uncomfortably) of Diptyque’s spicy Eau Lente.
During the far dry down, I am reminded most delightfully of the spicy, delicious woody-fruity dry downs of fragrances such as Idole EDP by Lubin, Feminite du Bois by Serge Lutens, and even some parts of Fendi’s sadly discontinued Theorema – I don’t mean to suggest that these are smellalikes, but to me, there is something in their transparent woodiness and spiciness that unites all four. Take it as a rough guide – if you are drawn to any of the fragrances I have just mentioned, then it is highly likely that you will enjoy Sensei too. I know I did.
Although I won’t be getting a full bottle, I have to say that I am thoroughly enjoying exploring my samples. The fragrance comes pre-packed as a set of three concentrations – the EDT, the EDP, and the extrait – which is either a brilliant idea that nobody thought of until now, or an annoying gimmick that kind of forces your hand as to what concentration you actually prefer to buy. You decide which. None of the concentrations last more than four hours on my skin, but there are slight differences between them when it comes to the presentation of notes. The EDP is stronger on the booze in the opening, the EDT has more of a dried-out tobacco leaf feel in the drydown, and the extrait is heavier on the coffee upfront. But beyond these small variations at the beginning, they all dry down to the same delicious base.