House: Serge Lutens, Christopher Sheldrake.
Date of issue: 2005
Listed notes: Indonesian patchouli, cocoa accord, galbanum, cistus labdanum, floral notes.
Enviromental/ethical statement: None at this time; I have asked and will post if anything becomes available.
On the bookcase behind me stands a little wooden casket carved with an animal's image. It is supposedly that of the Bhutanese thunder dragon, Druk, though I suspect it is Singha, the great lion of Thailand. It might also be Barong, his Hindu incarnation. When I slide back the lid and hold it to my face, I breathe the smell of dry, secluded teak. It sets my feet back down on the pitted basalt of Pura Besakih and the many Balinese shrines that convey so deep an appreciation of the divine within nature. The direction of this evocation and the sacred, complex elements of its expression so often prompt me to get up and put on Borneo that they're inextricable to me. I love this scent with such a passion that conveying my impression gives me the jitters.
Expect to be assaulted, even offended by Borneo if you live an exclusively metropolitan existence. Take a deep breath and put aside the associations that might rush at you; mothballs, wardrobes, the old, the unfamiliar, that atavistic suggestion of danger troubling the part of your brain that used to creep down from trees to gather up fruit when we still wore our own fur. New things will alight and replace them if you persist. Borneo describes the distance between you and the exotic; close enough to grasp but necessarily removed.
The first hit is green. So many people revile an inaccurate perception of patchouli that they dismiss this scent before experiencing its development, but as many have observed, this is not the patchouli you know. Forget bong shops and the dready girl who sat behind you while you ate Hari Krishna tarka dahl; that was probably ylang ylang anyway. The smell of quality patchouli leaves is a parched equatorial khaki, an errant, curling, powdered green enjoying polyamory with polished rosewood and the aforementioned temple teak. Wed this to the damp hay and low incense of smouldering opium gum and that's as close as I can take you. This note has a peculiar molecular weight and floats at head height in a warmed room. You rise from your chair to stand amongst its unsuspected largesse.
Next comes the cacao accord and this is where we lose more of you; the wtf of chocolate and leaves can be a deal breaker but the more you know of chocolate, the faster you will recognize the broad relationship. The cacao reveals itself as a construct over time, collapsing into its components then rolling back up into something you'd call chocolat in a process like the ponderous breathing of some enormous animal. Alongside it I find summer beating down on eucalyptus, cut tobacco, sun-warmed grain sacks, molasses, and even a small spike of that tarry licorice blackness at the heart of Fumerie Turque, another Sheldake prodigy. I also find stirrup leather, specifically because it wears the polish gleaned from riding boots. These leather and tobacco notes settle in, recalling the rubbed skin of a deeply-buttoned club chair and partnering the patchouli spine into a solid tail. Camphor and sometimes cardamon emerge late in the day, leaving you wondering why you didn't suspect their presence immediately, chocolate returning in a sweeter guise as things slow down.
Borneo is incredibly persistent on the skin; I find it a little less so on fabric in a reversal of the usual scenario. Put it on at night and in the morning you will be greeted with the same, sans maybe one third of its volume. I have made the mistake of wearing it alongside Chanel's Coromandel and was struck by the latter's heavy, sickly bourgeoise mass, its squat, pinky-yellow patchouli like something inflated with a bicycle pump and lodged in my throat. I now shudder at the thought of it.
In short, you enjoy Borneo or you do not. Moderate and indifferent don't often feature in the Lutens language. It is Eastern without bowing to cliché. Instead of fans and incense we are given otherness encapsulated; a green that lies over a darkness, the dry, singing shade of a forest awaiting monsoon. Oscillated animals slink by between the buttressed trunks, and in the unseen distance lies some flowering aboreal paragon, its blooms already on their way to becoming something more.