Roja Dove is an enormously respected, admired Master Perfumer, in addition to being a fragrance historian with an appreciation for the grand, classical tradition of haute perfumery. I had the opportunity to try a few of his fragrances at Paris’ Jovoy, and was struck by his Fetish line which was released in 2012. The scents come in both a men and women’s version, with each one then broken down further into an eau de parfum and extrait (or pure parfum) concentration. This review is for Fetish Pour Homme in extrait form.
Osswald Parfumerie quotes Roja Dove’s description of the scent:
“Succumb To Your Desires”. Warm, Dry, Sweet, Spicy, Leathery, & Very Sensual. “Leather can be so compulsive that for many it becomes a type of fetish. I then thought of leather in a man’s world. I thought of the soft sensuality of it against the skin, and the timeless appeal of a successful, masculine man and the things he surrounds himself with. Beware, as I have created a perfume that once under its spell there is no return”. Roja Dove
According to Roja Parfums, Fetish Pour Homme (hereinafter just “Fetish“) includes:
TOP: Bergamot, Lemon, Lime
HEART: Fig, Jasmine, Neroli, Violet
BASE: Ambergris, Benzoin, Cardamom, Castoreum, Cinnamon, Elemi, Labdanum, Leather, Musk, Oakmoss, Patchouli, Pepper, Pink Pepper, Vanilla, Vetiver.
Fetish opens on my skin with crisp lime and zesty, clean, slightly soapy citric notes followed immediately by contrasting animalism from pungent, brown, musky castoreum. The latter has an oily feel that is also plush, velvety, and slightly sweet. It is leathery, but leather in its own right soon appears. It has a slightly raw, rubbery facet, but it also feels very aged and burnished. It is heavily infused by cardamom that is nutty and dusty.
In essence, Fetish’s initial bouquet is of a very expensive leather sofa in a gentlemen’s club that has been cleaned with a sharp, waxy, slightly soapy and very bitter lime peel oil, then further oiled by musky, animalic castoreum, before being finished off by a heavy sprinkling of sweet cardamom that was taken from the bottom of a very dusty spice drawer. It’s all spice, bitter lime, sweetness, dust, muskiness, and animal secretions over aged leather — and it’s quite a discordant jolt to my nose.
I struggle with Fetish’s opening sharpness which I find hard to blame on any one, single note. The accords have combined to create enormous bitterness that is one part pungent green, one part smoky tar, and three parts animal. I suspect the oakmoss, smoky elemi wood, leathery fig, dry vetiver, and bitter lime are also partially responsible for a combination that feels as though raw animal hides have been tarred by the most bitter distillation. The fusty, mineralized, almost fossilized, dusty oakmoss and lime peel oil are joined by what seems like bucketfuls of castoreum.
Fetish’s increasingly powerful animalism takes on nuances that aren’t easy for me to bear. Forgive my forthcoming rudeness, but there is no other way for me to describe how the castoreum smells here except to say that it repeatedly reminds me of sweaty anus with a dash of dried urine on genitalia. There is also a sub-tone of fur to the musk, which brings back memories of a sick, elderly German Shepherd Dog that I had with some bowel problems. I never had problems with Serge Lutens‘ Musc Kublai Khan, a fragrance that has been described in the most explicit of terms, but Fetish? Fetish is tough, and it evokes all the things that others seem to have encountered in the Lutens fragrance. When that leathered, animalic side is mixed with the oakmoss-lime duo, the final result is one that I found painfully abrasive for the first 10 minutes.
Fetish softens a fraction thereafter, losing a minute portion of its musky, anus-like, castoreum aggressiveness. What’s left behind is a bitter, pungent, lime-infused, leathered muskiness that is very oily at its core. The cardamom, subtle tinges of soap, and smoky woods stand close by, on the sidelines, and are soon joined by the arrival of sweetened amber and patchouli. They turn the leather into something slightly gentler, more rounded, and richer.
Fetish continues to subtly change. Twenty minutes in, it is a leather chypre with contrasting undertones of green, mossy bitterness, clean soap, and oily castoreum body parts. The smoky, tarry, phenolic aspects slowly grow stronger, mixing with the very sharp, almost synthetic-smelling soapiness to create a combination that is as much a problem for me as the castoreum-oakmoss pairing. In all honesty, I am not a fan of a single part of Fetish’s opening moments, and find Roja Dove’s earlier leather-chypre creation, the famous Puredistance M, to be a smoother, better balanced, less aggressive, more refined, and infinitely easier fragrance. At the end of the first hour, a dark chocolate aroma begins to become noticeable, undoubtedly from the patchouli mixed with the dark, nutty, toffee elements of the labdanum amber. It would be enjoyable if Fetish weren’t also wafting huge amounts of bitter lime peel oil and fusty oakmoss at the same time.
Early into the third hour, other elements become noticeable. There are tiny hints of violet, neroli and jasmine that pop up in the background, but they are extremely faint and minor. Much more pronounced is the tarry undertone to the leather which feels almost burnt on occasion. The smoky elements may be from the elemi wood, but whatever the source, there is a disagreeably sharp, almost abrasive touch that lingers under the top bouquet of leather, oakmoss, and patchouli-amber.
Things only improve for me at the start of the 4th hour when Fetish finally turns soft, mellow, smooth and attractive. It is now an ambered leather with a well-balanced amount of chypre-y moss. There is an additional, quite unusual, undertone as well: the labdanum, patchouli and castoreum have somehow melded together to create a distinctly coffee-dark chocolate aroma. It’s delicious, neither particularly sweet, nor particularly bitter. Fetish’s sillage is soft as well, hovering right on the skin, though it is easily detectable if sniffed up close.
Fetish continues to lose its moss, smoke, and bitterness, turning into a beautiful amber at the 5.25 hour mark with richly burnished, aged, smooth leather, a light dose of spices, and warmth. It has a touch of dark-chocolate caramel from the labdanum-patchouli, along with saltiness from the ambergris. As time passes, Fetish turns almost entirely ambered, taking on an actual cognac aroma along with that hint of dark, dry, bitter chocolate and leather. It’s lovely, and addictive to sniff. The cognac-amber phase continues to the very end when Fetish finally fades away in a blur of golden warmth and sweetness. All in all, it lasted 11.25 hours on me, with initially moderate sillage that dropped about 90 minutes in to hover about 2 inches above the skin. It became a skin scent on me by the end of the fourth hour, but it continued to be easy to detect if you brought your nose to your arm until the end of the seventh hour.
There aren’t many detailed blog reviews of Fetish Pour Homme in Extrait form, but the lone comment on Fragrantica is for the pure parfum version. It’s too lengthy to quote in full here, but the poster, “deadidol,” seems to have had an experience similar to mine and, like me, much preferred Puredistance M. His review begins with talk about the “chypre bitterness” which dominates the scent, followed by “a faint soapiness.” After that,
[a] bulky castoreum, sprinkled with cinnamon, hums along underneath, and I get a gourmand texture that I believe might be patchouli. It’s massive scent, with a lot of individual components at work, yet oddly, I’m not getting that much leather from it—or at least not as much as I expected.
It settles into a scratchy cardamom musk over bronzed resins that come across as a touch candied, yet the tart, bitter notes remain as a reminder of the citric opening as it begins to fade. The whole thing winds down to a very tasteful vanilla musk that manages to sidestep predictability through the residual bitterness that reads as touch mentholated.
This has a wide profile: it’s a very loud and prominent composition which, like its infamous sibling M, is extremely tenacious. […][¶] For me, M keeps the gold medal out of the two, but that’s mainly because Fetish is playing a deck that I’m personally not that drawn to. There are several notes in this that don’t sit right with me, but they sit perfectly within the composition itself, and certainly within its genre. Objectively speaking, it’s an impressive scent although perhaps a tad too shouty; but subjectively, it’s not quite my cup of tea.
His last paragraph encapsulates my views down to a T. Fetish Extrait is well done, but it is also extremely “shouty” in my view, with discordant, sharp, abrasive elements that aren’t my personal cup of tea.
Elsewhere, Basenotes has a whole thread to Fetish, but it focuses almost entirely on the Eau de Parfum which most people conclude (again) is extremely similar to Puredistance M, but dirtier, darker, and not quite as nice. I’ve included the link here because there is quite a difference in price between the Eau de Parfum and the Extrait (which is $425 or €395), and so the former may be of greater interest. Some people talk about the Spanish leather and the animalic base in the Eau de parfum, which I can only assume have been ratcheted up a lot in the Extrait judging by what appeared on my skin. Others mention some problems with longevity and projection.
As regular readers know, Puredistance M is one of my favorite fragrances, but I don’t see it as being a pure leather. I actually see it as being a hardcore Oriental instead. I don’t think Fetish Pour Homme Extrait is a pure leather fragrance either, but it’s definitely much more of one than the M in my view, as well as being more of a chypre. For me, the intensity of the skanky, oily castoreum, along with the pungency and bitterness of the green elements, and the duration of the tarry, phenolic leather stage make the Extrait quite different from Puredistance M. I thought the latter had a much smoother, more balanced chypre opening, with a short leather phase that never felt skanky, dirty, raw, or tarred. When M takes on its main amber oriental characteristics, it not only does so sooner than Fetish, but its notes are profoundly richer, deeper, more molten, and heavy that the amber drydown in the Fetish Pour Homme Extrait. M is never “shouty.” It’s always smooth and refined, and it feels much richer.
As you can tell, I prefer M a thousand times over, but if you’re looking for something with a much stronger leather characteristic, with truly tarry, at times raw, and intense Spanish leather, accompanied by serious chypre elements and some aggressively musky, animalic skank, then Fetish Pour Homme Extrait might be your cup of tea.