Perfume Review- Serge Lutens Borneo 1834

Source: Fragrantica

Borneo 1834.
Source: Fragrantica

Serge Lutens wants to take you on journey to the heart of 19th century Borneo, an island on the equator, north of Java, and which now consists of Indonesia, Malaysia and Brunei. He wants to take you on the Dutch trading ships with their bales of raw silks and cocoa as they traversed the exotic seas on their way to the shops of Europe. And he does it via Borneo 1834, a perfume created with Lutens’ usual cohort in olfactory adventures, the famous nose Christopher Sheldrake. It was released in 2005 and, until 2010, was exclusive to Lutens’ Paris salon as part of the “non-export” line. At the moment, however, it is available worldwide via the Lutens website.

Fragrantica classifies Borneo 1834 as an “oriental woody” and lists its notes as:

patchouli, white flowers, cardamom, galbanum, french labdanum and cacao.

Bois de Jasmin, however, also adds in camphor and cannabis resin. The latter led me to some Google searches, with extremely amusing results, on what constitutes the exact smell of cannabis when in resin form. (My conclusion is that some people lead very… interesting… lives.) Borneo Traders

On his website. Lutens explains his choice of name and the theory behind the scent:

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

Imagine a woman of that time wearing a patchouli fragrance: she awaits her carriage, draped in her sable stole.

Children of BorneoThe famous perfume expert and critic, Luca Turin, provides even more explanation in his book, Perfumes: The A-Z Guide. In his four-star review of the fragrance, he says:

Patchouli Leaves

Patchouli Leaves

Apparently Lutens has determined that the first olfactory point of contact between Europe and the Far East took place there and then, in the form of the patchouli leaves used to wrap bales of silk. The patchouli was intended to keep moths away from the precious fabric (insects hate camphoraceous smells), but when the silk reached Western shores, elegant ladies wanted more of the smell. In other words, patchouli’s career in perfumery is a rise from bug repellent to luxury goods, a trajectory meteorically traced in the opposite direction by many contemporary fragrances. As often happens with Lutens-Sheldrake creations, the first sniff comes as a complete shock: the overwhelming impression is one of dark brown powder. Seconds later one realizes that this nameless dust is made of two components, patchouli and chocolate, skillfully juxtaposed (how?) so that neither the earthiness of patchouli nor the familiarity of chocolate prevails. Borneo 1834 is like Angel in reverse: instead of jumping out at you, it sucks you into its shadowy space. All the materials used are firmly rooted in the “orientalist” (aka hippie) style, yet the size, grace, and complexity of the overall structure make it the direct descendant of orientals proper like Emeraude and Shalimar.  [Emphasis added for the names.]

Borneo Bell Jar

Borneo 1834 in one of Lutens’ famous bell-jar bottles.

The opening blast of Borneo 1834 on my skin is glorious. I absolutely love it. There is wonderfully resinous, boozy, sweet patchouli with bitter chocolate. The latter is more like the small, dark, cocoa nibs that you find in baking. There is a faint hint of camphor, but it’s light and plays off well with the smokiness of the patchouli and labdanum. It’s not the sort of smoke that you find in incense but, rather, a sweeter, much nuttier smoke accord. It makes me think of siam sesin, only amplified and combined with patchouli and cocoa. (You can read more about siam resin, along with labdanum, galbanum and some of the other notes in Borneo 1834 in my Glossary.) The patchouli has a great earthiness, almost like rich, black earth — moist, loamy and heavy. There is a faint hint of a musky, animalic note, too, almost like the sort of body funk that you would get from civet.

I don’t smell cardamom or the white flowers to any noteworthy extent. There is a floral note there, faintly peeking its head over the mighty patchouli, but I don’t think “white flowers” would really come to mind. If there is a floral note, I’d think of a pale rose more than white flowers, but it doesn’t really matter as the note is so faint as to be barely noticeable.

As for the notes given by Bois de Jasmin, I have never smelled a fresh, growing cannabis plant, let alone cannabis resin, so I set off to do some research. Google informs me that the former smells like slightly herbal, sweet, cut grass, while the latter can supposedly smell of anything from skunks to motor oil. I don’t smell fresh, sweet grass in Borneo 1834, and definitely nothing even remotely resembling skunks. I suppose one could say that there is a faint scent of car oil, but I think that  the tarry, black note is more typical of a dirty, black patchouli or labdanum. Overall, the scent is dry in its sweetness, not cloying or synthetically sharp.

Cocoa Nibs. Source: A Man of Chocolate.

Cocoa Nibs. Source: A Man of Chocolate.

Thirty minutes in, the dark cocoa is on equal footing with the patchouli, and the light camphor note has vanished. There are times when the final result almost smells a bit like mocha coffee. It is too rich a smell to be considered “cozy,” especially as that is a word which I associate with softer scents that wrap themselves around you like cashmere or that make you want to snuggle under a blanket. Borneo 1834 is too dark for that. It is also too dry to be an edible gourmand scent, but it has some mystery and layers, especially in its opening. I truly adore those opening notes of patchouli which make me think, “this is what patchouli should smell like more often!”

I’m much less thrilled with the middle stages and the dry-down. Two hours in, the musk and animalic notes start to become much more pronounced. It is at this stage that the sillage lessens a little, though it is still somewhat noticeable. (Three hours in, the perfume becomes close to the skin, though there is still great longevity.) The animalic notes become more and more prominent with every hour, and the final dry-down stage is almost entirely earthy, slightly intimate body funk.

It’s hard to explain the scent here. It’s not intimate like someone’s private parts, it’s also not exactly musky, and it’s most definitely not like ripe, extreme, unwashed body odor. It’s sort of a mild variation of the two, a “skank” note like that from a very warm, faintly sweaty, slightly sweet, almost musky body after a long session at the gym. Perhaps, musk and sweet “dried sweat” may encapsulate some of it, but only a portion of it. Either way, there is a linearity and earthy singularity in the middle and final stages which is fine, if you like animalic notes. I don’t. Which is why I much preferred that absolutely lovely opening with its boozy notes evocative of siam resin, its luscious patchouli and its dry cocoa.

That dark, black, and faintly bitter, cocoa accord is just one of the things that separates Borneo 1834 from Christopher Sheldrake’s other patchouli creation: Coromandel (for Chanel‘s Les Exclusif line). Created with Jacques Polge, both perfumes share chocolate and patchouli notes, which is probably why they are so frequently discussed in the same breath. To me, however, Coromandel is an extremely different scent. In fact, I’d consider them to be like night and day. I found Coromandel to be all burning smoke, white cocoa and powdery vanilla, resembling a chai latte at times. The strong incense and frankincense notes dominated the sweet patchouli; it was a frankincense and incense perfume first and foremost. At its heart though, Coromandel is a cozy scent with powdered vanilla and tonka; it is light and somewhat multi-faceted. Borneo 1834, in contrast, is a dark powerhouse of patchouli, bitter cocoa dust and earthiness, and it’s not extremely complex. In fact, I’d say that it only has two stages, each of which is quite direct: patchouli chocolate with some camphor, resin and smoke; and earthy, animalic notes.

Freddie from Smelly Thoughts, a great perfume blog, loved the perfume throughout all its stages and didn’t seem to note any animalic body funk. His review is useful, especially as it compares Borneo 1834 to Thierry Mugler‘s infamous Angel:

So patchouli + chocolate = Angel? Not quite. The patchouli here is lavishly sleek, whilst being familiar in its dank, deep scent – it remains tame and completely in control. The sweetness in Borneo, unlike the Mugler, is also in complete control, richer – more exotic, with a delicate camphor laying over the top – adding an almost medicinal astringency to the patchouli and cocoa. The camphor is far from the intensity of Tuberuese Criminelle (for example), and instead has the sheer, sharp aspect that some great ouds have. It adds an age and a chilling subtlety to the foggy atmosphere.

I get a very subtle tobacco, as well as a liquorice note – in the same, but more toned down, style of Parfumerie Generale’s Aomassai. All intermingled with the cocoa and bitter patchouli, Borneo 1834 is dark and perplexing whilst being light and delicate on the skin.
The fragrance remains relatively linear, with a wonderful resinous base acting like a dark, sticky veil. The resins give off that breathy/slightly sweaty feel that they sometimes do (I normally get this with myrrh), I’d almost have thought there was the tiniest bit of cumin in here, but the fragrance isn’t spicy at all.

I think Freddie’s reference to cumin indicates that he may have smelled some animalic funk too, but obviously, it was in no way as extreme on him as it was on me during those final hours. All in all, Borneo 1834 lasted about 9 hours on me, with the animalic funk being a large part of the last (low sillage) 6.5 hours (and all of the final 3 hours). It is the main reason why I didn’t love the fragrance, though it’s an absolutely gorgeous scent in its opening notes.

Borneo 1934 is a scent that is definitely well-suited to winter and, if you love patchouli, well worth a sample sniff. If you try it, let me know what you think. I’m particularly curious to know if you have a similar experience as I did during the final hours.

Details:
Cost & Availability: You can find Borneo 1834 on the Serge Lutens website. In the famous bell-jar shape, it costs $290 for 2.5 fl oz/75 ml. However, in the smaller size and Borneo regular bottleregular bottle, it costs $140 for 1.7 fl oz/50 ml. In general, Serge Lutens is usually available at fine retailers like Barney’s, Lucky Scent and a few other online sites. Lucky Scent carries the 1.7 oz/50 ml bottle for $140 but, oddly enough, I’ve seen it sold on Amazon for $125 via Beauty Encounter. You can only do a search online to see if it is available at a discount from discount perfume retailers. Sample vials to test it out can be bought at Surrender to Chance (but not Lucky Scent) starting at $3.99. Surrender to Chance also has a special Lutens sample pack of 3 non-export perfumes which includes Borneo 1834 and which starts at $11.50 for the smallest sized vials.
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32 thoughts on “Perfume Review- Serge Lutens Borneo 1834

  1. Thanks for the heads up Kafkaesque! You’ve just reminded me about this one! I might wear it to bed tonight, haven’t smelt it in so long 🙂
    I’m surprised you get such a “funky” quality from this, I think patchouli can do that anyway. If you like the whole animalic/patchouli thing be sure to check out Intrigant Patchouli by Parfumerie Generale, one of the best out there! 😀
    You’re reviews are so incredibly in depth – your really explore these fragrances from every possible aspect – I’m loving reading your writing 🙂
    x

    • Heh, this was actually one of my short reviews! In fact, I almost categorized it as one of my Reviews En Bref. ROFL. But thank you for your kind words. 🙂 As for the animalic skanky note, I was extremely surprised since I rarely get that from patchouli. I don’t think I would love patchouli as much as I do if I always got humid crotch notes from it. 😉 But like you, I absolutely ADORED the opening. What a perfect patchouli! I loved reading your review of it, btw. It was a perfect encapsulation of much of what I got from much of the beginning of Borneo 1834. Just, you know, minus, the skank notes of the end. 😀

  2. I like this one quite a bit, and I’ve seen it compared to Coromandel as well. Like you, I don’t see much to compare. It’s quite apples to oranges, or at least a Granny Smith to a Red Delicious. I’ll need to study this one a bit more to see if I get the same end you do. It’s been a while since I’ve worn it, but I don’t remember finding it funky but definitely remember the opening smelling basically as you described it.

    • I think the only possible reason anyone would have to bring up Coromandel is that they were both created by Christopher Sheldrake. There are other patchouli and chocolate scents, after all. As for the funk, I’m starting to feel a bit like a weirdo. LOL. Yes, Freddie noted something that almost felt like the result of cumin (which can often lead to animalic accords) but I haven’t read other reviews where the earthiness translated to more than that. Bois de Jasmin didn’t note anything animalic either. That said, I have seen a comment or two on MakeupAlley which talked about animalic notes, and a few random comments elsewhere, but they are uncommon. Perhaps those few of us have skin chemistry which heightens the earthiness in things?

      • I think skin chemistry could be it. Oddly enough, I decided to wear it late last night, but upon waking up this morning, how it smelled after 6 hours is really what I like most about this one, way more than the opening. I’m not a huge fan of the chocolatey smell in general (although I do like the “dirtiness” of this one), one that dies down (which it does for me after a while), I get a really earthy amazingness which I love.

          • I would personally call it something closer to dry earth, rather than fresh soil. There’s more than that, I think. But I do love the end, and it makes the beginning worth it to me. But perfumes like this are really all the more reason to buy little testers – there’s SO much more to a perfume than what you smell on paper, and some smell so dramatically different once they hit the skin. If I had smelled this on paper, I wouldn’t probably have thought twice about it.

  3. Hi Kafka. Having a good Sunday?
    I admit that Borneo was a scrubber on me. It reminded me of spice market in India but it was very cloying on me. And I tried it in winter, so it wasn’t cloying because of the warm temperature.

    • Well, that makes two of us then for whom Borneo was not true love. If I remember correctly, you’re not a fan of patchouli, or am I mistaken? Do you think that was part of the reason why it didn’t appeal to you?

  4. I have not tried this but I just wanted to say that I love your reviews because they are so informative. I never knew that patchouli leaves were used in that manner. Very interesting.

    • Oh, Poodle, you have no idea how much that means to me. Thank you! I have a bit of a complex about the length and details of my posts (ok, actually, it’s a big complex. LOL) because I *KNOW* I’m painfully verbose. It’s one of my big failings and something my friends all tease me about. You have no idea how much I wish I could write short, simple, reviews. (And, it would make my life so much easier, too!) I want to do it the way everyone else does it. But I’m simply incapable of it. I quite genuinely have no idea how to write a short… ANYTHING! Not emails, not FB statuses, not posts, not reviews. *blush* In fact, I’ve never seen a detail (esp. a historical detail) that I didn’t somehow feel a compulsion to include. So, again, your kind words mean so much to me. More than you can know. Thank you, sweetie. You kinda made my day. 🙂

  5. I’ve tested this perfume a while ago and since then I’m really puzzled: how can the same people like Borneo 1834 and despise Angel?! I can’t even tell myself that this is because of the brand since I saw a lot of criticism towards Serge Lutens perfumes. I don’t think these two perfumes are identical but, to my nose, they have so much in common that I can imagine liking one more/less than the other but not the completely opposite reaction.
    Oh, well… Probably it’s just an Angel fan in me talking.

    • I think they are similar but, to my nose, Angel smells a bit synthetic and it’s much more vanilla-oriented than chocolate. At least, on me. I truly don’t get much chocolate, let alone dark chocolate, from what I remember from my last and most recent test whiff about 5 months ago. On me, if there is chocolate, it’s more white cocoa. Plus, Angel has definite fruity overnotes that I don’t see in Borneo. (I actually don’t think the perfumes are alike in any significant way.) But that’s the fun thing about perfume; it’s transformative and different on everyone. I mean, consider the weird body funk notes I got from Borneo 1834. It went beyond Freddie’s very mild cumin-like impression to actual and animalic body funk! So weird. 😀

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  10. I’m very fond of Bornéo, and haven’t noticed a problem with the ‘funk.’

    I did, however, try a sample of Santa Maria Novella Patchouli today and was turned off by a very slight B.O. note. Still looking for a more straight-on patchouli that doesn’t have that. Or maybe an aged patchouli oil from Floracopeia will do the trick.

    • Kelly, welcome! Thank you so much for stopping by and posting. I hope you will join our little band of chatty travelers. 🙂

      I think I had more “funk” from the patchouli in Borneo than most have experienced. Skin chemistry is a funny thing. Like you, I’m looking for a more straight-forward patchouli as well. (Separately, I have a very specific patchouli-floral fragrance memory in mind that I’ve been trying to replicate for years.) If you find a more uncomplicated but unfunky patchouli, I hope you will let me know. 🙂

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  12. Borneo 1834 is not what I was expecting. I had heard of it frequently in connection with Coromandel (which I LOVE) and so I expected some variation of it, stronger or darker, etc. Instead, what I get is PATCHOULI and everything else is far behind. My nose is overwhelmed by the patchouli and if no one had ever mentioned Coromandel in the same sentence, a similarity would have never entered my mind. Now, after a few hours maybe I can make myself see a similarity, but I doubt it would have come to me naturally. Patchouli with other background players for the first 2-3 hours for me. At one time floral and another time cocoa. It seemed to drift more from floral to cocoa as time passed and the patchouli significantly mellowed out. I will definitely try this out again, but I’m sad to say I’m disappointed. And it’s my fault for wanting a coromandel variant. In its own right it might be great, but I like my patchouli lurking instead of dominating. Great review as usual Kafka 🙂

    • Thank you, Cohibadad! I completely agree on the baffling comparisons to Coromandel. There are really no major overlaps at all! I think the fact that Christopher Sheldrake played a part in the creation of Coromandel is the only real reason for the talk, because patchouli alone is not enough of a similarity between the two scents.

      It seems as though you’re working your way through some of the darker or richer Serge Lutens. I’ll be interested to see what’s next on your list. 🙂

      • I was thinking the same thing about the Sheldrake connection being the major reason to compare the two. Here was one of the quotes I had read on the Fragrantica forum, “Serge Lutens Borneo 1834 Like the dank interesting sibling of Coromandel. (Christopher Sheldrake authored both, Borneo first).” Sonoma Scent Studio’s Champagne de Bois is more reminiscent of Coromandel, in my opinion, without any Sheldrake connection.

        There are a few Serge Lutens I have been eyeing, but I need to wrap my mind around another fragrance that is giving me a Coromandel/Bois des Iles vibe, the completely elegant Mitzah! My wife loved it instantly. I just put some on before sleep and I awoke in a beautiful cloud. It deserves some prolonged attention.

        • Ha! Mitzah! Did I tell you or did I tell you??! *grin* I’m so, so glad you’re enjoying it. Did you order a sample of Puredistance M as well? As for the Mitzah, if you do end up falling for it and want a full bottle, you will have to hurry since it’s been discontinued. I’d call Karina Lake in Las Vegas (see Mitzah post for contact # and details), tell her Kafka sent you from the perfume blog, and see if she has any left. I doubt it, but there is a chance. If not, I think the Dior website may still have some. Anyway, I’m thrilled to bits that you love it. And tell your wife not only does she has excellent taste but that she should try it on herself! 😉

          • You did tell me and I’m so grateful! Mitzah is too lovely to let this gem slip away. and both my wife and I can enjoy it. I would have loved to talk with Karina, but I ordered online at odd hours. Mitzah is like sliding into a bed sprinkled with rose petals, there are no rough edges. Everyone must try it before it is gone, gone, gone. And now I have a profound respect for Dior (even though they have discontinued this beauty). I love Dior Homme, but that is the only other Dior I have tried. Some compare Mitzah to Bois d’Argent, so I am anxious to try other members of La Collection Privée. Have you tried Bois? Any other suggestions from the line?

            And I think Puredistance M comes today so I will let you know what I think.

          • I haven’t tried Bois d’Argent, though a sample of it has been sitting on my shelf awaiting testing for about 2 weeks now. Somehow, there have been a lot of new releases that have completely bumped it off the schedule. But I hear wonderful, wonderful things about it. Dior’s Bois d’Argent, Leather Oud, Rose Isphahan and the Amber one all receive a LOT of praise. I have samples of all of them, so as soon as I get through a few more of the latest releases (and a little over my recent perfume trauma), then I will start on either Bois d’Argent or Ambre Nuit. As for the Mitzah, aren’t you Mr. Speedy Gonzales! I’m so incredibly impressed. I think I just told you about the perfume last week and yet, you got a sample already AND ordered the bottle. I’m thrilled beyond belief. And, again, very impressed as well. Bravo, my dear.

            I can’t wait to hear what you think about Puredistance M!!!

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