If ever a fragrance managed to include all the warm and cosy notes in the world in one bottle this was Feminité du Bois. Initially released in 1992 as a Shiseido release, it joined the Serge Lutens line in 2009, when Serge Lutens left Shiseido. It was conceived as a contradiction. The incorporation of cedar, a classic masculine note, into a feminine composition. It was the child of a collaboration of Pierre Bourdon and Christopher Sheldrake.
Feminité du Bois opens with a candied sweetness, something that has become sort of a trademark for Serge Lutens. It is candied plum and apricot and every dried fruit that you can think of thrown together. Cumin also plays a huge part in the opening. It cuts sweetness down with its earthy, dusty qualities. A generous sprinkle of high quality pencil shavings supports the entire composition and forms the heart and base of this perfume. Floral notes add a lift and spices warmth. All this is quite nice but it really doesn’t sound breath taking, does it?
What is amazing in Feminité du Bois cannot be described through a listing of notes. All this has been done before. What is unique in this fragrance is texture. Or textures to be more precise. Because all these different textures seem to co-exist in this one. Sometimes you catch a whiff of the sweet stewed fruit sticking on the back of your throat. Moments later there is this dusty quality coming from the spices, sprinkling the nostrils almost making you want to sneeze. Polished cedar wood competes with everything, winning most of the times. Violet cuts through with a velvety quality. Honey makes everything stick together. Feminité du Bois is not a great perfume for using original notes. It is a great perfume for creating a kaleidoscope of textures and colours, all dancing together on skin, keeping you guessing. And there is also proof for this.
Allow me to introduce exhibit A: Christian Dior Dolce Vita. a perfume released in 1994 and created by Pierre Bourdon himself with the collaboration of Maurice Roger. The note list is almost identical and it is obvious too. Same cedar base, cinnamon and spices, fruits and florals. But how do they compare? You can read a very detailed historical and olfactory comparison by The Muse in Wooden Shoes here which will be a lot more informative. The only thing that I can add is that back in the early 90’s Dolce Vita was so much more fashionable. It was sparkly, it fizzed like champaign. It didn’t have the slightly claustrophobic atmosphere and dark hues of Feminité du Bois. It was feminine and intoxicating. It was really lovely. But what has happened to it? It looks like it is still in production but I have not seen it around in ages or even hear talk about it. Feminité du Bois is still going strong. Dolce Vita would have been impossible to pull for a man. Feminité du Bois is seems to be shifting from sweet fruit to warm wood when it touches masculine skin.
It’s all about proportion and textures in perfumery. I would urge anyone who spends a lot of time dissecting note pyramids before deciding what to try on skin to find samples of these and try them side by side. Note listing practically identical. Perfume character couldn’t be different.
Notes from Fragrantica: ginger, cinnamon, cedar wood, peach, plum, orange blossom, violets, spices, vanilla, sandal wood, benzoin, musk, cinnamon
Notes from my nose: plum, apricot, spices, pencil shavings, honey