Borneo 1834 by Serge Lutens

Notes: Patchouli, White Flowers, Cardamom, Camphor, Cistus, Galbanum, French Labdanum, Cacao

“Why did I pick 1834? That was the year Parisians discovered patchouli. In those days, it came wrapped in silk.”

Borneo 1834 is another fragrance that I first tried about 5 years ago, thanks to my SL Fairy Godmother. I loved it then – the decant was generous, and I was able to enjoy it for years before feeling the need to purchase a full bottle. Of course, waiting meant that I was only able to purchase Borneo 1834 as a part of the Gratte Ciel series. I do find that the Gratte Ciel formulation is different than my original decant. So let’s dive in.

Antique Map of the East Indies by Hondius, circa 1606

The first spray of Borneo 1834 is quite strong. It is salty, if not outright briny. As the fumes fade, the opening smells very strongly of booze. Initially, this smells like a beer or a cidre, but very quickly, unmistakably turns to champagne as the saltiness lingers. Within about 30 seconds to a minute the bubbles bring to fizz out and then comes a wood to mellow this out. The effect almost smells like hay.

Within a few minutes, I start to smell notes of dark, powdery, chocolate, swirling with the woods, booze, and patchouli. This is not a gourmand cacao, but rather dark and rich, with the woods/hay lend more sweetness to this than the cacao.  The combination yields a very distinct note I can only best describe as pencil shavings.

I can smell different spices, both savory and not so savory – coriander, cumin, cardamom. My initial take me to a Renaissance-era European open air market, with spices and dark chocolate, fresh from the sails traveling from the east. Something akin to the market/chocolate scene in the movie Ever After.

Market from the movie Ever After

Within about an hour, richer wood notes of mahogany permeate and suddenly my mind takes me on the ship. Maybe even inside the captain’s quarters, where he is drinking a bottle of rum while pouring over his log and star charts.

The scent evolves into something incredibly earthy over the next hour or so, I imagine due to the patchouli. Combined with the saltiness, it can be difficult to discern if it’s something marine or terrestrial. The blackest of souls. Still with notes of cacao and the pencil shavings, which begin to amplify over the earth at around the 2 hour mark.

Illustration from Utopia by Sir Thomas More

From this point forward, Borneo 1834 the Gratte Ciel edition, much more closely resembles the original Palais Royal decant I have – with dark cacao, patchouli, and pencil shavings lingering for 8-10 hours. For such bold sounding notes, it is surprising that I don’t find it has a great amount of projection in the drydown.

Is Borneo 1834 Full Bottle Worthy? I think that if I was reviewing the Palais Royal version, that would be an easy yes. In its current state, I think it is full bottle worthy if you enjoy more masculine leaning, sharp scents. In its previous iteration, I delighted in layering Borneo 1834 with chocolate perfume. It made the cacao in Borneo 1834 more palatable while making the linear chocolate perfume more interesting. I’m not certain it would work quite the same with the amplified brine, dark woods, and earthiness of the patchouli in the Gratte Ciel formulation.

That’s not to say that Borneo 1834 can’t be enjoyed by both men and women (and everyone in between), its just that the initial two hours, at times, are a bit too much for me personally (I would say that this more unisex than say, Gris Clair… for example). Overall, I would rate Borneo 1834 in its current iteration as 4 stars (Palais Royal, pre-reformulation would be 4.5 stars). There’s something about the previous version I just like more and find more wearable and versatile.

Borneo 1834 is available to purchase from Saks Fifth Avenue for $375 for 100ml.

P.S. Round 3 of the Battle of the Lavenders will continue later this week.

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