Joining the Cult

Whither the cult fragrances? You know what I´m talking about. No? Let me refresh your memory. Not so long ago – when the Earth´s crust was still cooling and before the fragrance-industrial complex started releasing something like 800 scents a year – a new fragrance like Luctor and Emergo´s People of the Labyrinths (a.k.a. POTL) would come out and perfume fanatics would talk about it forever. On the message board, in the blogs, folks would be singing their praises over and over and over about some interesting new release like Anne Pliska, or Fifi Chachnil, or Narciso, or what have you.

Robin at Now Smell This and I were just lamenting the flood of fragrances and flankers, and how folks don´t seem to rhapsodize over specific scents quite as long as they used to. I´m absurdly pleased to see Worth Courtesan appear semi-regularly on the  Top 10 list, which I like to consider my own contribution to cult adoration, since so far as I know I´m the first blogger to lug a bottle home from the U.K. and rave about it. (An aside to any of you who´ve tried it – um, how´s that going?) But I wonder how long it will be before everyone´s moved on.

I miss those perfume-cult days.

So I´ve joined up. Today I´m turning my back on my truckload of new samples to blog against the grain about a cult scent – one of the original cult scents – I´ve only recently and happily fallen in love with: Shisedo´s Feminite du Bois (notes via Osmoz: ginger, cinnamon, clove, plum, peach, orange flower, violet, cedarwood, sandalwood, vanilla, benzoin). It was created all the way back in 1992 by Christopher Sheldrake and Serge Lutens, the precursor to Lutens´ Bois series. I´d tried it several times, and each time I was assailed with an overwhelming note of B.O., courtesy of the cedar. I like skank as much (okay, more) than the next person, but there´s nothing sexy about that heavy B.O. note on me. It´s revolting. I would sigh and move on.

Then several months ago I was in an airport somewhere, waiting to board a plane, killing time in the duty-free shop, when I picked up a bottle of FdB and pondered again how brutally unfair it was that I couldn´t wear the fragrance in that gorgeous bottle. I sprayed some on, which was both masochistic and inconsiderate before getting on a plane, but my mind was addled – and lo! It was so beautiful. It was everything I could ever have wanted.

Some of the most rapturous reviews I´ve ever read of a scent focus on Feminite´s development, but on me it´s fairly linear. The cedarwood is strongest in the first ten to fifteen minutes, and if you´re going to get the stink that´s probably the worst of it. Separate from that, it is a perfectly weighted blend of sweet fruits, spices, woods and benzoin. It is every bit as voluptuous as that bottle, strong but not overpowering, feminine but not flirtatious. I have read it described as “dark,” but to me it is as luminous as the full moon on a midsummer night. A man could wear it if he had some tolerance for the fruit-confit aspect, and there´s plenty of sandalwood to offset it. I will note here that my original observations about the B.O. aspect aren´t entirely imaginary; Louise has two bottles, and one seems to us to be quite a bit more B.O.-laden than the other. She likes the B.O. bottle because overall the scent lasts longer on her. I, with no longevity issues, prefer the softer bottle.

I love all the bits of this scent. I love it when I put it on. I love it nine hours later. I love it when I put on a shirt I wore the day before and its scent is still present. Some people find it too sweet on their skin, but not me. I´ve been wearing it to bed, because that´s how comforting I find it, and that´s a huge departure for me. I generally don´t wear scents to bed other than something really tame like Berdoues´ Violettes de Toulouse (or, more accurately, I just wear whatever six scents I have on, unless I´m so disgusted I shower first and then put on the Toulouse to ward off niche fragrance nightmares).

Feminite is perfect on its own, of course. But it also layers nicely with jasmine (I like Montale´s Jasmin Full) and it would probably work with other florals and maybe even leather, given how creamy and sweet it is.

Finally, a tip for Feminite lovers: I discovered (accidentally, of course) that FdeB layers wonderfully with a particular hand lotion I think I blogged on once – The Naked Bee hand and body lotion. It smells like orange blossoms floating in a bowl of honey, it´s alcohol and phthalate-free and not animal tested and blah blah blah, and it works wonders on my extremely dry skin, in addition to smelling luscious. (Their travel-size shampoo/conditioner is pretty fabulous too). Wearing the lotion and Feminite du Bois to bed together is almost more luxury than I deserve. Almost.

Embarrassing footnote: I think what I’m wearing is the Eau de Parfum, courtesy of Louise.  As usual, I could be wrong.  It has plenty of oomph, though.  Let’s see if Louise chimes in.


  • TexasSnow says:

    I bought this in Paris in June – came back to Texas and haven’t worn it much since in the heat. I did a little layering experiment with SL’s Daim Blonde, which was interesting – both were lightly applied. I’ve been looking for layering suggestions on the boards.

    Right now I can’t say I love it – but I’m re-evaluating in November!

  • Solander says:

    Hello again March and all the perfumistas!
    I like the smooth, feminine, elegant/cosy woods of FdB, but nothing I’ve tried from the Bois-series has appealed to me. They all sound good, but for some reason they don’t smell as good… I normally like cedar, so I don’t know why. It’s certainly not because it’s too skanky or too woody, rather too little of both! AvaLuxe has a pretty decent knock-off of FdB, I think it’s the one called Silk. Very strong though, wear with caution! And a little less sophisticated, of course.
    I can tell you you certainly don’t find FdB in any perfume shop or department store in Sweden, not even in Stockholm! Haven’t checked the perfume counters of York yet…

    • March says:

      I need to try that AvaLuxe.

      This is interesting. FdB is everywhere in the airports. Hausvonstone says you can’t throw a … knockwurst in Berlin and not hit a bottle. Maybe you guys are into that clean living stuff?

      Like Laila?:-? Stockholm’s in Norway, right?


      (I kid, I kid)

      PS Are you IN York now? If you can bear the thought, let me recommend evensong at Yorkminster.

      • Solander says:

        I’m IN York now, yes. 😉 Thanks for the tip, sounds like something I could drag my parents to when they come to see me..

        Oh, it sounded as if you couldn’t find FdB anywhere in Sweden, didn’t it? You can, but it’s not everywhere, in fact I’ve never seen it irl, not in Berlin either that I can remember. But perhaps that’s just because I always miss the tiny little Shiseido shelf…

  • Tigs says:

    I should have checked the news – we hit above parity this afternoon. We haven’t done that since before I was born. Yikes!

  • rosarita says:

    I received a sample of FdB as an extra from a generous MUA swapper and hadn’t tried it yet, so I put it on while perusing the Posse, went off and read my other blogs of interest, and now I’m back, an hour later. Mmmm, lovely, March you’re so right. Not sure I’d have to own it as I think I like Black Cashmere more, at least after this first tryout. The cedar opening was fine, I thought, just a touch medicinal in whiffs, but the creamy spicy stages are veeeery nice. Drydown sweeter than BC, hmmm, this may be one of those that keeps getting better on the skin over time. Thanks for the post, M! Looking forward to sniffing this all evening. 🙂

    • March says:

      Definitely sweeter than BC. An adjunct scent. BC I have to be in the right mood for or that little scrape of incense can start working my nerves, and BC is VEERY difficult for me to get rid of once it sets up camp on my arm. The longevity of Feminite is pretty impressive.

  • Tigs says:

    Ah, dear Canada, where this is still available for $52. Which is… let me check. OMG!!! Dear heavens, 51.88 USD today. Parity, here we come! No more Northern Peso!

    About M et B #1, I think I like the opening better, but the drydown and lasting power isn’t as good as FdB. Crazylillebule Dans Tes Bras is also surprisingly similar, a little more potpourri-ish and peachy in the beginning, milkier (and more like Musc & Patch) in the drydown. Just saying, $9 or $9.02 Canadian at the Court. I’m thinking of heading on over there myself, as M *ate* my last stick (that can’t be good for her!)

    • March says:

      NFW. I mean, I’m happy for you, but it’s just further damning evidence that the almighty dollar is in the toilet. I think we are still dominating the Hungarian florint… where’s my 30% Canadian discount?:-?

      She ate the WHOLE stick?!?:o Did her breath smell really good afterward?

  • Rita says:

    This has been on my list for a long time, but I haven’t got around to smelling it yet. Now I am curious and I will have to buy a decant! I haven’t tried Cedre, but I have tried Bois de Violette and it was way too cedar for me, so I do not know if I will like this one or not.

    • March says:

      But was it way too cedar, or waaaaaaaaaaay too cedar?;) If the latter, I have a suspicion you’ll have the same issue with Feminite that I did. I hope I don’t find myself in the sudden position of discovering at some point in the future that the Cedar Grim Reaper has come back for me.8-x

      • Rita says:

        Add a hundred more a’s and that’s just about right. The violet lasted about 30 minutes, and it was straight up hamster cage after that. I have only used my sample once, so I will soon give it another try. It is the only Lutens I do not like so far, but just because of my love for the others, I will still have to sample Feminite du Bois!

  • chayaruchama says:

    I stockpiled this in the 90’s, when I heard it was not going to be available in the US…
    I bought up every bottle on the East Coast I could find, even in Maine.
    Have body cream, lotion, parfum, EDP, and perfume pens w/ refills.

    I hadn’t fallen in love so hard since I was 11, with Mitsouko.

    • March says:

      Oooh! That’s fun. I didn’t realize I’d discovered one of your lovers from the past.;) I’m not so much an ancillary product girl, how do you feel about them? Actually, coming from a makeup company they’re probably pretty good…

  • Robin says:

    I respect FdB, really, but it hasn’t grown on me yet. Guess I need to give it another shot. But what I really want to know about is that hand lotion. Is that something you find in health food stores, or do I need to buy it online?

    • March says:

      I first ran across it in a gift store near the town where my sister-in-law lives. It strikes me as the sort of thing health food stores could carry, but I’ve not seen it around here in Whole Foods or anywhere else. The price they quote is the retail price I pay, plus then there’s shipping, obviously. If you love honey as much as you love orange blossom, I think you should try it. Will reiterate that I find it extremely rich without being greasy. I think the shampoo (which smells identical) is the nicest-smelling hair product I’ve ever used.

  • Patty says:

    Hey, I need that big fat bottle, that’s so cute! You know, I admire FdB, but I don’t wear it. Too much fruity cedar for me. I prefer the less fruity in the boisees definitely!

    It’s still shockgin to me that you no longer despise Serge Cedar. I don’t know how this happened.

    • March says:

      I am looking forward to trying the Boise series now. Yeah, I dunno what happened either. If I start blogging about how much I love rose frags and Carons, assume body-snatching by =:)

  • AimeeinAustin says:

    Thanks so much for spreading the love of FdB! I’ve loved FdB since my days as a poor grad student in Boston, and remember being very upset when a new acquaintance was wearing what I thought of as *my* signature fragrance! So I switched to Theorema, which my friends tell me they associate with me years later. But ever since I’ve lived in the steambath that is central Texas, I can hardly wear either! waaaahh!

    • March says:

      No, Central Texas does not strike me as the perfect home for Theorema or FdB (though your taste in fragrance is excellent).

      You know what? I bet Theorema and FdB might layer really nicely.:-“

  • Silvia says:

    Think FdB was one of the first “unusual” perfumes I tried. It seems to be in abundance at German airports so I never fail to spritz when I find it and the nose is duly glued to the wrist for the duration of the flight. Having said that, I never felt the urge to buy a bottle, as all in all I prefer Black Cashmere. However its status as a classic is undeniable, a bit like when you discover that the odd 70s vase that has been around your house forever has entered the MOMA collection !

    • March says:

      Oh, I love me some Black Cashmere. Speaking of cult fragrances, although I think BC has a love-it-or-late-it track record. The lotion is great, too. In terms of sweetness, I find Feminite to be a bit closer to Donna Karan’s discontinued Chaos. I am thrilled we’re getting to the time of year I can wear them with abandon.

  • Judith says:

    I really like FdB, and I have been neglecting it for far too long. Perhaps I will do so today. A similar ‘fume, created as an homage to this one, is Miller et Betaux #1 Trouvé/For you. Some people like that even better; you should try it if you haven’t. Glad to see you are making your peace with cedar, in any case.:):)

    • March says:

      I knew you’d be happy, listening me whinge about cedar has to be a bit of a bore, like listening to my kids talk about spinach.

      Think I’ll ever fall in love with rose? What are the chances?

      I need to try #1; I think I must have, but can’t remember it? I like Spiritus/Land a lot, not so much Green, Green, Green.

  • Marina says:

    Just as I fall out of love with FdB, you fall in love with it. 🙂 To quote Lion Kind :-), “it’s the circle of life…”

  • Carol says:

    So excited to read this post… first, I am tickled that coincidently I already have a decant from PC on the way… had been going through the SL Bois’ and had thrown it on my must try list too. Sounds just wonderful and I’ll be rushing home this afternoon to see if my post mistress delivered it!

    Secondly, I am fascinated by the differences you get from the two different bottles of this one… I had purchased a 1/4 ounce bottle of my beloved Jicky parfum and was so disappointed to find it so less skanky than my decants of the same. How could that be? Will I forever have to buy decants to get my true fix or can I trust purchasing a one ounce bottle as it is positively my HG? Seems an expensive gamble…

    • March says:

      We’re doing some of the Bois series next week in Fourplay! I’m new to the Bois series too, which I’d avoided because of my Feminite problem… I hope you enjoy them all. It seems most people who try them have a favorite — one they particularly love.

      Jicky. Well, I hear they’ve all been reformulated without oakmoss to make them IFRA-compliant.:o And good luck with that. I would say that, based on the obscene amount of sampling I do, getting two versions of a fragrance that smell subtly but qualitatively different is not that unusual. I tend to load up if I found I like it, but I’ve had my share of mild disappointments. I don’t know squat about fragrance production but assume that (like anything else) there are slight variations, or maybe it’s the way the fragrance has been handled (heat, light) post production.

      • Louise says:

        March, darling vixen, one issue you certainly don’t have is a feminite problem…!

        • Louise says:

          or femininite (durn spelling)!

          • March says:

            L — I always want to write “Femininite” because in English it’s femininity. But if my French dictionary and my reading is correct, the French is missing an “in” — Feminite. Which frankly sounds better to my ear, I think we should switch to feminity in English. But then would you and I be “femine?”:-? Maybe not a good idea…

  • Louise says:

    March-I was so happy you came over to the FdB side. It is the EdP version you have (need some more?), and today I’m gonna pull out the really fuller-bodied bottle, in honor of your conversion. I don’t get so much B.O. as big moldering tree from that transitional stage, and I love it. But, don’t ask my colleagues.

    Besides, a little B.O. is sometimes nice, and I am certainly used to it. Remember, I work with teenage boys.

    I think one bottle was from online, another from Europe, so maybe that’s why they differ. I also have the body cream-very yummy, must be careful, ’cause the layering can be very powerful.

    Great pic!

    • March says:

      Not yet! I’ll let you know. Unsurprisingly, a single spray on each arm will do me. Oh, I forgot to share back my new NM story — the harridan over there who screams at me (before I’ve moved) — DON’T TOUCH IT! Meaning, don’t take the spot she’s just sprayed and dab it elsewhere on your person. It’s like being yelled at by your mother not to pick that scab on your knee. Where’s my cudgel when I need it?;)

      • March says:

        PS Your office-mate is going to have a fit. Just saying. Put the lotion on, too while you’re at it.

        I love that pic. I had no idea there were all those different shapes. And I need to try the lotion.

  • Lee says:

    It’s a truly wonderful fragrance… Time I owned a bottle?

  • hausvonstone says:

    one can find this at even the dullest department stores in europe (at least in berlinP. i wonder if anyone ever buys it! it really is lovely.

    • March says:

      Auuugh.:(( I simply don’t understand why we don’t have decent equivalents of places like Marionnaud and Douglas. I have seen amazing things in both (amazing by U.S. standards — the CVS to you.)

  • Flora says:

    Wow, now that I finally know what the bottle for this mysterious fragrance looks like and I can match it to a name, I am going to keep an eye out for it! It sounds just wonderful, and I actually get along very well with cedar – and everything else that’s in it.

    I am the last person to jump on fleeting trends in fragrance, since I love the classics so much, so I appreciate it when something more modern has this kind of lasting power. I know I have seen this somewhere – probably before I knew what it was and I must have thought it was some cheap knockoff. The bottle design is kinda weird after all! I will not make the same mistake if I ever see it again. Thanks for bringing it to the forefront of our perfume conscience. 🙂

    • March says:

      You’re welcome. I have never seen it anywhere other than duty-free, although theoretically *someone* carries it — including, theoretically, Shiseido. D.C. fragrance shopping is the pits, but maybe in Chicago or D.C. In any case you can get it online, and I’m assuming TPC has samps of this venerable fragrance.

      • March says:

        That would be Chicago or LA. And strike one “theoretically.” Blogging before coffee. And I’ve not seen the entire variety of bottles, but I think the EdP one is strikingly lovely.:x

  • tmp00 says:

    You know, completist that I am I have never smelled FdeB. I was under the impression that it was completely unavailable, and I was afraid that I would be immediately and irrevocably in love with ti, and then where would I be?

    • March says:

      Tom — how is this possible?!?! I think you would love it. And no broken hearts (at least not yet) — as hausvonstone notes down there, it’s all over Europe. You can get it online — I am pretty sure Amazon can hook you up :-). It’s not even that much ($70 for the Edp?) By niche standards, that’s… free?;)