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Borneo 1834 - Chocolate reinvented


Image - - Ceremony of hoisting the British flag...Borneo, December 24, 1846 drawn by Leopold Heath (1817-1907)

Last Friday, I talked about pepper, Monday was coffee, Wednesday was licorice, and I’m still on a roll with this food thing, so today is….CHOCOLATE.  But not sweet chocolate – I’m talking dark, bitter, chocolate.  Pure powdered cocoa, that’s the chocolate in the heart of Serge Lutens Borneo 1834.

A few years ago I found Serge Lutens export fragrances at The Bay in Toronto. Being new to the fragrance thing, I thought they were waaay too sweet, too heavy, too weird - but then I spent some time at the Lutens store in the Palais Royal in Paris testing all his scents, and I changed my mind. Now I’m a huge fan and SL devotee. His creations, done in partnership with Christopher Sheldrake, are perfume art – complex, beautiful, strangely different, and challenging.

Borneo 1834 was instant love for me, and is still one of my favourites from the Lutens Exclusives. The notes include Indonesian patchouli, white flowers, cardamom, camphor, cistus labdanum, galbanum, cannabis resin, cocoa accord.

Be prepared for a different perfume experience, because Borneo opens with a dusty blast of cocoa powder, dark and dry, bitter and sour, which soon transforms into a surprising accord of mocha with ground almonds or hazelnuts – but absolutely unsweet, no sugar, nada.  Just the dry, pungent, vegetal smells of the cocoa and coffee beans and the ground nuts (coffee or nuts aren’t listed as notes, but I definitely smell them.)

And then a new note  - what is that smell?  Turns out to be patchouli - patchouli leaves, cool, green and earthy, smelling of both camphor and licorice at the same time – a patchouli which is far, far away from the 1970’s sweet, oily head-shop patchouli. This is dusky and bewitching, and its exotic scent expands, swirls and mixes with the bitter nutty chocolate, cardamom spice, resinous mahogany and ebony woods, the sweetness of galbanum and labdanum, blending into a smooth, warm incense-like cloud in the dry-down. Borneo 1834 finally sweetens a little, with a hint of wood smoke, and settles in to be totally intoxicating and gorgeous, with exceptional subtle sillage which trails for hours.

I think Borneo 1834 is remarkable – dry, dark, green, sweet, warm, smoky. By contrasting unmatched notes such as chocolate with green patchouli leaves, camphor with flowers, spices and woods, the undertones in each of the notes are highlighted: the coffee and nuttiness in the cocoa, the licorice in the camphor, the smoke in the mahogany and ebony woods. The end result is a fragrance which is incredibly sensual and powerful, which smells like it’s come from another time and far-distant place, blessed by holy men chanting in temples. From Borneo in 1834, I guess.

Borneo 1834 is a strange combo of perfume notes. You might think “Chocolate, patchouli? No thanks!” – decide it’s not sniff-worthy, and not order a sample.  I recommend you try it, for three reasons:

FIRST: you probably love sweet chocolate and think bitter chocolate is an acquired taste/smell=FLAVOUR, but once you get it, I can assure you that the “85% pure” imported chocolate bar at the check-out becomes really hard to resist, I mean incredibly hard to resist.

SECOND: Patchouli may be one of those “hate-‘em” notes for you, but your reference could be, for example, the cotton-candy sweet patchouli in Angel, so  l have to tell you that the scent of patchouli leaves is a vastly different experience. Like the difference between a double-double cup of vending machine coffee and a freshly brewed cup of Starbuck’s Cafe Verona.

THIRD: You should seek new perfume experiences, otherwise you're wasting your time reading my blog. Perfume is about the act of smelling, not reading about  smells.

“Chocolate, patchouli?” – are you still wavering?  In Borneo 1834, it’s chocolate and patchouli TOGETHER, and it’s pure genius. 

Borneo 1834 is listed in our Decant Store. Decants are $8.00 for 1 ml.


POSTSCRIPT: And the name? Borneo 1834 refers to the place and the year when England and Europe were introduced to patchouli - the leaves were used in the packing bales of Indian and Chinese silk to deter moths. Apparently the gentry were so taken with the exotic herbal patchouli that they soon started using it in their homes, and wearing patchouli oil as scent.