I first became aware of Smell Bent about a year ago, when the small start-up perfumery run by Basenotes member Brent Leonesio put out its first press release. Brent (hey, Brent, do you mind if I call you Brent? I feel like we’re friends already) has stated in interviews that he started Smell Bent because he felt that perfume should be fun, and shouldn’t cost an arm and a leg.
Smell Bent’s line includes such fragrances as Lemon Cowboy, Blimey Limey, Mama Cassis, Hungry Hungry Hippies, Violet Tendencies, Tibet Ur Bottom $, Monaco Dependent, Thai’d Down, and St. Tropez Dispenser.
The names, descriptions, and illustrations for all of the Smell Bent scents are clever and tongue-in-cheek. Unlike Etat Libre d’Orange, whose Poke Fun at the Mainstream attitudes tend to simply annoy me, Smell Bent’s content amuses me. Smell Bent fragrances are produced in oil format and eau de toilette; several scents are available in both formats, but some are only available in one or the other, so if one of the above list has caught your fancy, scrutinize the website carefully.
A word about that website: I think it’s a little difficult to negotiate. I would love to see a page listing every single scent on offer, including formats, sizes and prices. Instead, Smell Bent divides its fragrances into collections that you explore, then click the “back” button to explore the next collection. I can see why they’ve done it this way, particularly when I know that SB tends to release fragrances in batches, approximately five scents at a time. I’m sure that the SB guys think of them in groups. It’s probably easier to maintain the site when you’re frequently changing what’s in the “limited edition” section. Also, this type of organization leaves plenty of room for the clever, mad-kindergartener-with-a-crayon illustrations, which I must admit really charm me, even if I’m not in the least interested in a particular scent. But this is a Creative-Person type of organization, and I tend to think in a more linear fashion (witness my slavish devotion to lists!), so I get confused. At least, momentarily confused – I did manage to negotiate the site well enough to order samples of all the scents that interested me, so fear not if you’re a linear thinker. You’ll just have to have some patience.
What I ordered: 4ml bottles of Prairie Nymph and One, Smell Bent’s “anniversary” scent, both of which are LE and edp. I also ordered samples of Bollywood or Bust, Chile Vanilli and Commando. My order came very quickly, with freebie samples of Never Never Land and Lucy Fur, and a friendly note from Brent himself. Admittedly, this is not a very wide representation of the various Smell Bent fragrances; it’s just what I was interested in testing. Here’s a rundown on what I thought of the scents I tested.
Prairie Nymph – “honeyed beeswax, carnation, clementine, and soft musk.” I love real carnations, and often have trouble finding a carnation fragrance to love. (I am currently saving my pennies for DSH’s stupendous Oeillets Rouges; CdG Red Carnation was a bit soapy and harsh, Prada Oeillet and Caron Poivre are well out of my price range, Ava Luxe’s was dreadful on me and so was Caron Bellodgia. I liked Fragonard Billet Doux a lot, but its staying power was not good.) The citrus in the topnotes is really nice, a much-quieter, fresher version of Andy Tauer’s favorite mandarin note, and it smells great with the carnation-rose-spice accord. No potpourri in sight – it’s just some fragrance materials harmonizing like a Sweet Adeline Chorus. For four hours, this thing is pretty and fresh and entirely wearable, a pleasant smiling floral with a sense of humor, and I liked it a lot for four hours.
After that, the musk is what’s left, and it was still going strong 14 hours after application. I’m not a huge musk fan, and this one is a little dirty, and when I could still smell the musk ten hours after the rest of the fragrance had worn off, it was wearisome. Enough musk already! I can’t complain about the top of the fragrance in the least; I liked it a lot. I am complaining about the musk wearing out its welcome, though, and I don’t know when I’ll have the patience to wear this again. Maybe the trick is to enjoy the floral four hours and then scrub thoroughly… which I could definitely do, for a carnation fragrance as comfortable and pretty as Prairie Nymph.
Bollywood or Bust – “an intoxicating blend of red rose absolute, robust sandalwood, and rich, savory spices.” Okay. This one is pretty much what it says – rose, sandalwood, spices. Nice. Not terribly complex to my nose, and the rose has got that sort of screechy vibe that you sometimes get with rose soliflores like Creed Fleur de The Rose Bulgare. I tend to think that this is a scent that sounds better on paper than it actually is on skin; it’s not blended very well. I have smelled rose attar compounded in sandalwood oil, and that was actually much better-blended; the rose and sandalwood were holding hands instead of standing side by side in an elevator pretending they don’t know each other, as they do in BoB. I have a feeling that this mixture is good quality raw materials that might have simply needed more time hanging out together to develop a real relationship. Maybe some more maceration time was needed for this particular batch… I dunno.
Chile Vanilli – “vanilla bean absolute spiced with light patchouli and cinnamon bark.” I picked this out myself. What was I thinking? It says “patchouli” right there in the description. Right there! I suppose I was thinking of perfumes like Tocade and Organza Indecence, which successfully combine a dusty patchouli with a deep smoky vanilla. I love those. However, there must either be an infinitesimal amount of patch in That Slut Tocade and OI, or the balance is way off in Chile Vanilli, because what CV smells of to me is an oily, sour mess of hot peppers, cinnamon flavoring, dirty headshop patchouli and very little vanilla. It’s possible that my hypersensitivity to patchouli is popping up here (I’m guessing that at least some of you are saying to yourselves, “Wait, there’s patchouli in Tocade!?”), but this thing is an utter fail for me personally.
Commando – “a motley crew of animal musks rounded out with a base of tonka bean absolute.” This one is a favorite of Tom who writes at Perfume-Smellin’ Things; he calls it a “wardrobe staple,” and “smelling like the skin of a child,” and although we don’t usually go for the same type of scent, I thought I really must try it if I’m exploring musks. (Here’s Tom’s post on several Smell Bent scents.) I see that I really must mention my prior relationship with musks before I get into specifics. My mother wore Jovan Musk for Women when I was younger, and that’s a very pleasant, “skin-and-clean-laundry” sort of smell. Serge Lutens Clair de Musc is exactly the same sort of thing, except perhaps a bit paler than the Jovan. I have never liked the other Jovan musks (White Musk, Vanilla Musk, Sexiest Musk, whatever), but Skin Musk is still nice, a powdery-warm-skin sort of thing. I related my experience with DSH Perfumes’ Special Formula X-treme here. I have a small sample from a swappie friend of Musc Ravageur that I have yet to test, but I have not tried – and probably will not try – the Beast itself, Muscs Kublai Khan.
So what happened with Commando? Bear in mind that this one only comes in oil, so it doesn’t radiate much. The first time I tried it, it smelled pretty great to me – a warm-skin smell that reminded me of clean, hairy-chested male (yum). But Bookworm jerked her head back from my wrist, making gagging noises. I wrote that off to “the teenage girl nose phenomenon,” since she tends to have the same reaction to anything even vaguely skanky (L’Arte di Gucci’s unwashed-hair castoreum note, Rumba’s musk, whatever’s in Bal a Versailles that smells like postcoital skin, all of which are simply faint hints to me). The second time I tried it, I had the same reaction that Bookworm had – ewwww! It still smelled like hairy-chested male, but… um… shall we say, hairy-chested male in desperate need of a shower, fairly raunchy. Every time I’ve gotten the vial near my nose since the second wearing, my stomach has turned over and I haven’t been able to, er, man up and put it on skin again.
Never Never Land – “rich amber, desert rose, guaiac wood, vetiver and the arid outback.” I was expecting this one to be pretty great; I like this sort of thing in general. And it was really terrific for about ten minutes, a dusty rose tossed onto a hot grill with some spices. Then, inexplicably, it morphed into Play-Doh. Seriously. Play-Doh. Where’d that come from? I’d already run into the infamous Play-Doh accord in People of the Labyrinths Luctor et Emergo, and I didn’t like it then. I didn’t like it in NNL either, and to my chagrin it stayed Play-Doh for a good three hours before I gave up and washed it off. Urgh.
Lucy Fur (oil) – “sinful red musk mixed with vanilla cream and a splash of patchouli.” This is the one that was holding up my writing this mini review. I didn’t pick it out myself, and to be honest, wouldn’t have chosen it. I sniffed from the vial and was uninspired to put it on skin. The vanilla and spices say, “Eat me!” The animalic musk says, “And die!” Urgh. I did actually, finally, put it on skin, and kept thinking of a mink or a weasel lolling amidst vanilla cupcakes. Urgh. NO. Four hours plus of this, and then I scrubbed. It’s just not my thing. You know what this reminds me of, to be honest? Dior Poison. And I mean Poison Back-in-the-Day, too, the kind of dichotomy of Sweet Vs. Deadly that it used to have then. Not the actual smell, of course, just that juxtaposition of deliciousness and evil. Which, I guess, is what they were going for anyway.
And, to end on a positive note, One – “aging paperbacks buried under cardamom, dark vanilla, dry wood and sweet musk.” To be brief, I totally dig this thing. This is a lot like what I was expecting from Dzing! after having read the review in P:TG – old books and vanilla. I won’t say I was disappointed in Dzing!, because I think it’s fascinating, but Dzing! is pretty much Virtual Circus to me, complete with sawdust, animal fur and dung, and cotton candy: really cool, but too dirty-smelling for my personal taste. One, though, is terrific. It does open up with the clearly identifiable, slightly-musty smell of old books, which I love, and then slides through spices into woods soaked in vanilla extract. It’s a wonderful combination of weird and comforting, pretty much the same effect as Bvlgari Black. It’s LE and only available through October 31, so if you’re intrigued, get some NOW.
Smell Bent Smellies are very reasonably priced, with 50ml bottles of edp running around $45 and large 4ml samples at $6.50. The scents I tested seem to have been clustered around the Vanilla-Floral-Spice-Musk nexus, but I hear good things about several of their other fragrances, so I strongly encourage you to check out their offerings. I look at the results from my six Smellies, and I’m all over the board with them – from Dear God, NO to Ooh, I wanna bottle of THAT. The ones that were failures for me were, at the very least, interesting failures. There’s not a boring one in the bunch. If I lived in California, I’d be haunting the shop just to get free sniffs. Kudos to Brent and the Smell Bent Bunch for giving me so much fun in just a few little glass tubes. They were well worth the smelling.
Here’s another batch of quickie reviews of Smell Bent smellies by Patty at Perfume Posse. And happy anniversary to you, Smell Bent!
All images are from Smell Bent via Fragrantica.