Oh, dear. I feel bad about this review… but I’m determined to be truthful. This one’s getting a lot of love from vintage-perfume fans as well as natural-perfume fans all over the perfume blogosphere: Jen at This Blog Really Stinks (who hosted the draw for the large sample I tested – thanks, Jen!), Scent Less Sensibilities, Eyeliner on a Cat, Indieperfumes, The Non-Blonde, EauMG, Scent Hive, Oh, True Apothecary, Scentual Soundtracks, Perfume Pharmer, Escentual Alchemy. I love many vintage perfumes too. I like chypres, particularly if they have floral components. I am an AldeHo – if it’s got aldehydes, I’m probably going to like it. (If I’ve missed some other reviews, please let me know.)
See, the thing is… this is the fragrance that started out as an experiment in naturals, a “modern fragrance in vintage style,” if I’ve got the story right (somebody jump in to correct me if I don’t).
I’m not typically a big fan of “all-natural.” For one thing, I think it’s silly to claim that only synthetic materials can be harmful to the body or the environment. (Oooooh, don’t get me started. The smug attitude makes me grit my teeth in rage.) From a practical standpoint, I’ve been mostly disappointed with the skin longevity of all-natural perfumes, with a couple of notable exceptions (Dawn’s own Rose Vert, and Honore des Pres Vamp a NY). I’m not one of those people who complain all over Makeup Alley that “this doesn’t last, it only stayed six hours and I had to reapply in the middle of the day,” but if I’m not getting three hours’ worth of wear at least, I’m just not interested in spending the money to buy it. I know, too, that all-naturals have different qualities – they tend to sit closer to skin, they tend to “bloom” in unexpected ways rather than lifting slowly off the skin the way fragrances underscored with synthetic materials tend to do – but they’re not qualities that make me excited. I’m always happy to give an all-natural fragrance the good old college try, and I’m willing to make a few allowances, but I’m not predisposed to prefer all-naturals.
I’ll remind you at this point that aldehydes are synthetic. And that I like them.
At some point, Dawn seems to have decided to go ahead and add a few synthetic materials that she felt made Pandora “come alive” – the aldehydes, and a small amount of ozone (unnoticeable to me, by the way). Here’s what she has to say on her blog about the project:
The “Beautiful Evil” is a quote from the story of Pandora as told by the Greek, Hesiod. She is the all gifted, all giving one, a singular woman and synonymous with Eve in many respects. It is she who opens humankind to the knowledge of good and evil and ultimately breaks the utopian ideal. With Pandora, mankind has plagues but also knowledge and maturity. She opens the door to truth and hope.
What began as an all-botanical design for a project changed direction with the addition of a subtle synthetic influence. It made all of the difference. This is also a perfume that also utilizes some new and exotic botanical materials…in Pandora, the ancient meets the 21 century.
The notes feature ruby fruits, bergamot, aldehyde, spices, ozone, violet leaf, davana, cassis bud, green and pink pepper, rose de mai, juhi jasmine, linden blossom, yerba maté, cabreuva wood, orris, green tea, mousse de saxe accord, cyperus, fossilized amber absolute, ambergris, patchouli, vetiver, muhuhu, sandalwood, tonka bean, oakmoss and vanilla.
(Yes, she said oakmoss. Please start breathing again.)
On my skin, Pandora has very good longevity; one spritz will last about four to five hours. There’s no indication on my small sample what concentration I have; the fragrance is available as 15ml parfum ($220, shown above), or as 4ml/10ml eau de parfum ($25/$60).
The first thing I smell is a cheerfully intense herbal-tea note (if you were worried about the red berries, fear not) under a bright haze of aldehydes. There’s an immediate suggestion that you might accidentally have gotten hold of some vintage Miss Dior, what with the moss and the dry iris in there, and there’s a very old-fashioned air to this stage of the scent. It’s an incredibly layered scent; it contains a lot of notes I can’t identify other than to call them “woody” and “herbal.” Earthy, foresty, and vintage – it’s very pleasant.
A little while later, Pandora segues into a warmer, woody-chypre sort of fragrance with a hint of spice here and there, and I begin to like it a lot less. It’s still layered and complex, but this is not the kind of thing that pleases me. It reminds me somewhat of vintage Magie Noire, but drier and less green, without Magie Noire’s opulent floral heart. There are florals in Pandora – I smell jasmine, definitely, and a bit of rose – but they are not the focus. Instead the focus is on the woody notes and moss.
Eventually the oriental/mousse de saxe base begins to float up through the woody notes, and this is where I have to start gritting my teeth. It’s strikingly reminiscent of several scents that I really dislike: Opium, Youth Dew, Caron Nuit de Noel. Whatever accord it is that those scents have in common, it’s popping up in Pandora, both cloyingly sweet and oily-dusty. It makes the back of my throat ache and I find it unpleasant. But that’s me, my personal taste, and if you like the perfumes I just mentioned you won’t be bothered by it at all.
Pandora is an exceedingly intelligent-smelling perfume, a swirling pastiche of woods and herbs and amber, lightened with a few glints of aldehydes and fruit, a cornucopia of fragrance materials. It is, truly, a vintage-inspired modern fragrance, and if this sort of thing seems up your alley, I suggest that you go get a sample from the DSH website, post-haste! Buy a bottle! Now! Support independent perfumery! (The parfum bottle, by the way, is Drop. Dead. Gorgeous. So elegant – and I do love the beautiful mossy green color of the liquid inside.)
Thing is, Pandora is beautiful… and I do not like it. This fragrance is not my style, but that doesn’t stop me from recognizing its obvious excellence. A large part of it is natural, and there is something wonderful and solid and complex about natural ingredients. Too, it’s put together in such a way as to create a seamless, smooth, and yet distinctive and bold perfume. Kudos to DSH Perfumes.
My great thanks to Dawn for making the sample available and to Jen at This Blog Really Stinks for hosting the drawing. It is a joy to know that somebody is still making perfume with brains!
I am happy to be able to pass on this sample to a commenter on this post. It’s a spray sample, approximately 3ml with about 2ml (possibly more) remaining, plenty of perfume left for testing and enjoying! Since it’s a small sample, I’m opening up the draw to commenters outside the US.
To enter the drawing, please let me know if you like any of the other fragrances I mentioned in comparison to Pandora in the review: Miss Dior, Magie Noire, Opium, Youth Dew, Nuit de Noel. Which is your favorite? Do you have any special memories associated with these, either worn by you or a loved one?
Draw will be open until Friday night, October 28, at midnight Eastern Standard Time. DRAW IS NOW CLOSED.