Tuesday, 28 May 2019

Mini-leopard in the boudoir: Papillon Perfumery Bengale Rouge 'review'

Source: eBay
Topic advisory: this post may end up being more about cats than the upcoming release from Papillon Perfumery, the 6th perfume in Liz Moore's carefully curated scent stable. That is no reflection on the merits of the fragrance itself, which has all the hall- - and paw- - marks of a (highly-hyphenated) feline-themed lemming-in-waiting, but rather on my own increasing shortcomings as a reviewer. The inability to parse notes is one aspect, for which some combination of nose and brain are to blame, but I also struggle these days to even convey the overall 'vibe' or atmosphere of a perfume. I shall of course give it my best shot, confident that there will be other reviews along shortly which will more than pick up the slack, if they haven't already indeed.

But first, to cats. I received this sample in the post at the weekend, along with an amusingly surreal card painted by Liz's artist friend Tracy Dovey. "Those fish aren't long for this world", was my first thought. "That poor woman is going to stink of them", was my second - assuming she escapes the cat's embrace, which is moot. The sample was accompanied by a note list written on the back of a photo of Liz's beloved cat Mimi, one of her Bengal harem.

In an exchange following my receipt of the package, Liz explained the inspiration behind Bengale Rouge:

"...little Mimi was my muse for the new perfume. It is my attempt at recreating the scent of her fur, which is generally a mix of cat or any fragrance that I seem to be wearing."

Mimi muffler

While here Liz seems to be wearing her cat...;)

A bit of background may be in order on these 'mini-leopards', as they have been dubbed by the magazine, 'Your Cat'. Today's Bengals are descended from the Asian leopard cat, which was bred with regular moggies. Prized for their beautiful markings, 'Your Cat' goes on to describe them as 'a domestic cat in wild wrapping'. The Chairman of the Bengal Cat Club has likened them to the Duracell bunny on account of their boisterousness and boundless energy, which - as Liz would be the first to admit - often spills over into 'a funny five minutes'. She rather aptly calls her home in the New Forest 'the funny farm', which is at least in part a reference to the madcap behaviours of the cat contingent rather than just the foibles of her human family. Here is Noo, eschewing her designated sleeping spot in order to luxuriate in a sea of discarded polythene, in time-honoured cat fashion.

Noo, coming over all unnecessary on some packaging

So we know that Mimi - and more specifically the smell of her fur - was the starting point for Bengale Rouge. But we don't know exactly how she smells. I am kicking myself now, as I have been to Liz's house a few times, and reckon Mimi would have been threading herself between people's legs on each occasion. I had the perfect opportunity to bury my nose in her fur and sniff her thoroughly, and would then be able to compare that scent memory with Bengale Rouge the perfume. Oh well, 'hindsmell' is a wonderful thing.

Mimi the muse

Hunting digression - contains upsetting scenes that some readers may find distressing

There is nothing for it but to compare the perfume with my own cat, Truffle. An important point to mention, with olfactory implications, is the fact that she and Mimi both go outside. In Mimi's case this is only during the day - to stop her wandering off under cover of darkness and into other people's homes, for which she has form apparently - whereas  Truffle pulls many an all-nighter on the tiles. This is of course prime hunting time, and Truffle's killing sprees have been escalating lately, Jack the Ripper-style. Only this time last week she brought in both a disembowelled starling AND a mouse in a similar state of intestinal disarray. In a curious presage of my writing this post, I had a nightmare the other day in which I conflated Liz's diverse menagerie with Truffle's prey, and dreamt that she had brought in a whole owl and a cock's head and neck. An owl would have been jolly tricky to pick up using only a bit of kitchen towel, my go-to disposal method on such occasions. In desperation, the next day I made Truffle wear a collar again for the first time in three years. And added a bell to warn wildlife of her approach! Tolling of bell = reduced death toll, was my thinking. It has worked a treat all week, until Sunday morning, when the pitter patter of rain helped disguise the telltale tinkle of the bell, and Truffle left me this on the landing...Hmm, she looks like she is sniffing the mouse there!

Not saved by the bell!

Despite their big cat vibe, Bengals are apparently not that bothered about hunting. Here is the Chairman of the Bengal Cat Club again:

"Bengals don't prey on wildlife. Even with their history and where they've come from, they're not mass killers. Bengals are generally not good hunters; they're more likely to just watch."

Goodness me, that gives a whole new meaning to the term 'peeping Tom'(!). So it seems like Mimi wouldn't need a bell then, even if she hadn't been grounded for sauntering nonchalantly into neighbours' houses. She is more likely to curl up on top of someone else's Aga than bring a brace of pheasant home at dawn, with or without their full quota of innards.

So given that she does go out (hunting!), Truffle's fur has its own innate animal smell, plus a few extra accords from the great outdoors. Chief amongst these is an earthy, patchouli-like scent from her routine latrine-digging in flowerbeds. I have often caught a hint of gravel or concrete too - some kind of stone, anyway - and when it has been raining, this of course morphs into the full petrichor, haha. Oh, as is the case for Liz with Mimi, there's also a smidge of whatever scent I am wearing thanks to my frequent nuzzling in her fur.

The particular sniffing action pictured below was staged specifically for this post, mind, and took about ten takes before I got both of us in the shot, and the shot vaguely in focus.

Notes: Turkish rose, orris, sandalwood, tonka, oakmoss, honey, vanilla, labdanum, benzoin, sweet myrrh

On first sampling Bengale Rouge, I was struck by how quiet it was compared to the big production bodice ripper that is Salome, and Liz agreed with me that it was more understated, adding that it was 'fluffier', and the 'softest' of her creations. I cannot convey how soft it is - I could have included Bengale Rouge in my 'Careful Whispers' series if I could have been bothered to work out from my archives which number it would be. Editor's note: No 4 at a guess, but I am not going to change the title now...!

From the off I have to say that Bengale Rouge smells a lot more like an indoor cat, notwithstanding Mimi's daytime excursions. Lose the earthy smell and the petrichor; there is none of that here. It is a 'Bengal with a bell' scent, ie de-wilded (no really, that is a word, like de-planed), even though we have established that it doesn't need to wear one. It is a mini- or should that be a Mimi-? - leopard in the boudoir, an image that came to me after I chanced across this item on eBay (see above):


This is not a Lipstick Rose kind of boudoir scent, mind - it is nowhere near as overtly feminine and stylised as that - but there's not a whiff of rock hyrax either. Bengale Rouge's fur is faintly sweet smelling and clean. It is a cat that has been freshly bathed and dusted down with talc. Yes, Bengals like water apparently, though I don't know quite to what extent. Truffle won't let me near her paws when she comes in muddy and sopping wet, though she is not averse to a quick back rub with a tea towel. Hmm, I should perhaps have said 'en suite' rather than 'boudoir', being less loaded with sexual imagery, but Bengale Rouge is still sensual all right, in a muted kind of way.

Then by analogy with the 'YLBB' style of lipsticks, I could say that this is '(The Scent of )Your Cat, But Better'. And if you aspired to be 'Catwoman', you might very well wish to smell like this. Bengal Rouge is unmistakably animal-like, thanks to the cunning interplay of the oakmoss, sandalwood, labdanum and myrrh - more so than a woman, yet more fragrant than a cat. Though not more fragrant than a cat that lives with a perfumer...!

Liz and Mimi, briefly tolerating the pose

On first spraying Bengale Rouge, I get a faint hint of rose trussed in a corset of oakmoss and labdanum, The overriding impression is smoky and resinous rather than floral, but I love labdanum, so that's okay.. Even the opening is quiet, then very soon the composition becomes wistful and attenuated, and very slightly sweeter as the honey and vanilla notes kick in, buttressed by puffs of orris and little wisps of incense. The myrrh does not have that vaguely static buzz you sometimes get with the note - for example in AG Myrrhe Ardente, where it fizzes like Pepsi or root beer. The overriding feel of Bengale Rouge is definitely more powdery. That and meditative, and Lord knows my cat sleeps a lot when she is not out killing things, so 'meditative' is the very word for it.

I should also mention my observation that over the course of writing this post, Truffle's scent has changed slightly. You wouldn't believe how many times I have toggled between sniffing my wrist and her fur! I am now getting a distinct aroma of carpet, which I swear wasn't there earlier, but which may simply be scent transference from her fabric collar to her head and neck area as she has been scratching herself. And there have been times in the past - most notably when she got stuck in a garage for 36 hours - that she ended up smelling primarily of cobwebs and piss. So while your cat's smell is very much a moving feast, as it were, Bengale Rouge has deftly rendered a generic 'base smell' that would be typical of most cats, then cleaned and prettied it up just enough to elevate it from smell to fragrance.

In short, Bengale Rouge is a ballgown scent without the va-va-voom. It's the ne plus ultra of discreetly mysterious sillage as you swish past in your bustle of silk. (Sorry, I have uncharacteristically been watching the period drama Gentleman Jack, but only because it's got swashbuckling, coal mine sinking Suranne Jones in it.) Bengale Rouge is where - perhaps counter-intuitively - orientals meet 'office appropriate'.  Through her ingenious blend of 'actual cat smell' and notes more closely associated with 'perfume properly speaking' Liz has delivered on the brief she set herself of recreating her 'collaterally scented cat'. And because of its quiet elegance - think Volutes edt, but even quieter and more refined, and I love Volutes! - Bengale Rouge is 'paws down' my favourite of the line to date.

Finally, here is Truffle, weary from her earlier mousing exploits, followed by a long stint of being the 'control' sample.

Truffle's bottom partially obscures the notes

PS Any fans of Volutes edt would love Bengale Rouge, I reckon. The scents have a similar languid vibe, and though the compositions are obviously different, there is some crossover of notes, namely iris, honey, benzoin and myrrh.

PPS Hmm...now Truffle has come in smelling of coal. I think I might start smelling people to work out where they have been.


Tara said...

Wonderful, V. Love the sound of Bengale Rouge and if it's your favourite Papillon to date, that raises my anticipation levels even higher. Can't wait to try it. I would say Dryad is my fave from the line so far although I wore Tobacco Rose last Saturday night.
'(The Scent of) Your Cat, But Better' is

Vanessa said...

Hi Tara,

Thanks! I am sure you will love this, as you are a fan of iris and incense. I hope it may nudge you that bit nearer to owning an actual cat too, for perfume purposes and beyond!

Tara said...


Prince Barry said...

What an absolutely wonderful review. I'm even more excited now waiting for my sample to pop through the letterbox.

Vanessa said...

Thank you, Prince Barry, I hope you love it too!

Carol said...

Ooh I also love the sound of Bengale Rouge, and Suranne! Yes! Loved Scott and Bailey (not to keen on Doctor Foster - the first season was ok the second season started off a bit much so I stopped watching), and unfortunately we don't get Gentleman Jack - will have to wait until it hits the library.
I esp. popped in to say HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO YOU!!! much love, my friend!!

Undina said...

What a convincing review! Perfume that inspires that many cat-related musings definitely deserves attention.
I love how Rusty smells: warm and clean smell of his fur is so cozy and comforting! And he doesn't mind me sniffing him - unlike a couple of my friends' Bengals who start yelling the second anyone picks them up.
"(The Scent of) Your Cat, But Better" - perfect! :)

Vanessa said...

Hi Carol,

Thanks for the birthday wishes - always lovely to hear from you!

Dr Foster put the 'preposter-' in 'preposterous', but I loved it all the same. ;)

Suranne makes a great 'man' - hope you catch up with it. X

Vanessa said...

Hi Undina,

I can well imagine Rusty smelling cosy and comforting. His longer fur would only add to that. Truffle hates being picked up but I can sniff her 'ad libitum', as the vets say of cat crunchie dispensing. ;)

Anonymous said...

Brilliant! You have combined my two favourite things and much more. Of course now I want Bengale Rouge.

I had a horrid thought for a moment .... capturing the essence of cat reminded me of Suskind's book, Perfume, and I am relieved that no feline was hurt in the creation of this fragrance!

The only thing I find difficult to accept with cats is their natural hunting instinct, but I was so grateful for this when our Macy went wild for four months - he wouldn't have survived without it. The morning we got him back his fur smelled much like patchouli; I think it was earth, moss, dew and hay (he had been making a home at night in the farmer's barn). And of course his own special scent. All cats seem to have their unique pawprint fragrance underlying the special feline fur perfume. I think I could tell which of our three were which in the dark by the smell of their fur.

Thank you for a smashing review.


crikey said...

I think Bengale Rouge is *gorgeous* and I think it's kind of funny that even though I didn't know it was meant to be YCBB, I referred to sinking your fingers into a stretching cat's belly fur when wittering on about the still-nameless scent's softness and languid luxury when I posted on instagram about it.

Indoor cats smell different I think--less of the petrichor and patchouli and greens. Herschel currently smells of warm dust, as she was snoozing on a high bookshelf, while Atkins has a hint of bengale rouge, as she was sleeping on the shirt I wore yesterday. My old girl zot always used to have a hint of guerlinadeish pastry, kitsune had a hint of peppery carnation.

p.s. happy (belated) birthday!

Tatiana said...

Happy belated birthday.
I love Volutes, so I think I definitely need to seek this one out and try it.
We had two indoor cats and they both had unique scents. I of course preferred the scent of the cat who decided I was her human and followed me around the house and directed all of her affection towards me.
There's an instagram account of a Bengal cat @sukiicat, who goes on adventures with her owners. From the photos and short videos it is clear this cat loves water and is very adventurous.

Vanessa said...

Hi Jillie,

Thank you! Am glad you liked it...ooh, that Suskind reference is scary indeed. And I am with you on the hunting - bothers me no end. If your cat went missing though for all that time I can totally see why you would have been glad of his being able to fend for himself. How wonderful to get him back in the end too.

And you make a good point about cats smelling differently. I feed my friend's cat very regularly and she sits on me and lets me nuzzle and stroke her. And absolutely has her own smell. A lot less earthy than Truffle as she is not allowed out.

Vanessa said...

Hi crikey,

Great that you love Bengale Rouge too! I should say that I put the YCBB slant on things, while my understanding is that Liz was seeking to create 'HCE' - 'Her Cat Exactly', who happened to be base cat + perfume patina. ;) On Facebook she had mentioned that the upcoming scent was inspired by one of her feline family, but I don't think you go there much, so it was all the more impressive that the cat comparison came to you unaided! As well as being a tribute to the perfume's own powers of suggestion. For my part, I am not on Instagram - or barely - so didn't catch your review. Is it under a photo? Would like to read the full thing.

And I enjoyed the evocation of the scent of your indoor cats - what very particular (and unusual) things they smell of!

Vanessa said...

Hi Tatiana,

Thanks for the birthday greetings and I definitely commend this one to you as a Volutes lover.

LOL at your preference for the scent of the cat who made more of a fuss of you.

That Instagram cat account sounds like fun. I really should go there more, but I find Facebook more than enough to keep up with.

Have you seen the video of the man who is cycling round the world with a little kitten he found along the way?

Try watching without crying at some point! Gets me every time, it is so heartwarming. ;)


crikey said...

I think Liz reposted it on FB, but this was my write up: https://www.instagram.com/p/Bxx0rUAB7yG/ (but aye, IG is my home of choice rather than facebook. I very rarely visit the latter.)

I hope that Bengale Rouge is the success it deserves to be!

Vanessa said...

Aha, I did see that, and very lovely it was too. I just didn't know you had another Internet handle!