Serge Lutens Borneo 1834 : Fragrance Review

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Borneo_bottle

Star rating: 5 stars–outstanding/potential classic, 4 stars–very good, 3 stars–adequate, 2 stars–disappointing, 1 star–poor.

Serge Lutens Borneo 1834 proves once again that the genius of  Serge Lutens and Chris Sheldrake lies in the interpretations of particular notes by exaggerating their qualities and ornamenting them in such a way as to reveal the most unexpected and arresting element. By way of example, the odd camphorous note serving as a prelude for the sensual floral heart of Tubéreuse Criminelle is a note present in tuberose absolute, a hot rubbery darkness that suffuses white floral opulence. Smooth cinnamony sweetness of Cèdre intensified by tuberose recalls a caramelized floral note present in certain types of cedarwood oils, particular Himalayan cedar.

Borneo 1834 takes the sweet winey effervescence of patchouli and layers it with silkiness of chocolate and darkness of resinous woods. The top notes shock like vapors from a glass of rum. The hot wind that stuns senses upon the first inhale whips up a scintillating cloud of patchouli, which settles slowly in swirling patterns—one moment, it is a sweet golden (not earthy) patchouli, the next, it is a dark balsamic resin. The intoxicating warmth is interspersed with sweet incense smoke, which segues into the bitter chocolate. It is not a sweet luscious gourmand note of chocolate that made Angel a success, but a dark mélange of cocoa powder, bits of rubber and rosewood dust. The end result is a composition of remarkable contrasts—weightless darkness, smoky sweetness and eerie sensuality of patchouli.

Borneo 1834 is a newest Salons du Palais Royal exclusive fragrance. Wax samples of this fragrance seem to be more representative of the drydown. However, the best aspect of the fragrance is a fascinating interplay between almost palpable gradations of heat, which are revealed best in the liquid perfume. The notes include Indonesian patchouli, white flowers, cardamom, camphor, cistus, galbanum, cannabis resin, cocoa accord. The name refers to the place and the year marking the period when patchouli first entered the West.

Photo: Borneo 1834 limited edition bottle from Serge Lutens’ fan site (thank you, C!).

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33 Comments

  • Anjali: I am so satisfied to finally know what on earth the title of this fragrance refers to! (You have just made my lemming ignite to epic proportions btw 🙂 Your descriptions are amazing and tantalizing as usual!) August 30, 2005 at 3:01am Reply

  • Sisonne: Dear V, I really envy you as you´ve tested Borneo 1834 already. It seems to be kind of a “wild”, dark & mysterious fragrance that´s suited for winter. I´ll have to get a sample 😉 August 30, 2005 at 6:59am Reply

  • annieytown: This was a stunning review. The moment I read the notes for borneo it became a huge lemming. It just sounds so beautiful and interesting.Thanks V! August 30, 2005 at 8:14am Reply

  • Laura: Another gorgeous bottle! August 30, 2005 at 8:53am Reply

  • Tania: The bottle is a stunner. The juice sounds magnificent. I always found the chocolate in Angel to be unsweet—savory instead, like a Mexican mole. I’d love it even drier. Lucky you, smelling this! And I love the comparison to rum. (Reminds me—I sipped a scotch the other day that smelled like the most glorious butterscotch candy ever made. Dalmore 12 years old. Gotta have it again.) August 30, 2005 at 9:24am Reply

  • Test Subject: Tania, if you enjoyed Dalmore you should try McCallan (start with the 12 yr) or perhaps Aberlour (15 yr). Both are aged in Sherry casks which adds a certain decadence to the experience. If you master those, you can upgrade to the 18 yr McCallan which is one of my favourites. August 30, 2005 at 10:15am Reply

  • Robin: Great review, V. I WANT that bottle!! Patchouli is a hard note for me, so very much looking forward to trying it but whether or not I will love it is hard to say. August 30, 2005 at 10:29am Reply

  • Tania: The Macallan is one of my favorites! I have the 18-year-old whenever I can. I’ll certainly seek the Abelour. August 30, 2005 at 10:30am Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: Anjali, I wore this fragrance a few times already, and I am fascinated by the interplay of sensations. It is dark and unusual, with the same sweet duskiness that makes Fumerie Turque an interesting composition. I also want a full bottle now. August 30, 2005 at 11:10am Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: Dear C, you will have to get a sample, because I think that it is one of the most interesting fragrances from Serge Lutens. It certainly will not be for everyone, because I suspect that it might come across as masculine (like Chene is more masculine than something like Daim Blond). However, it should be sampled. August 30, 2005 at 11:14am Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: Annie, thank you. Writing about something beautiful is always so much easier. August 30, 2005 at 11:15am Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: Laura, it is a gorgeous bottle! I love nearly all of Serge Lutens limited edition bottles. August 30, 2005 at 11:15am Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: Tania, P. really knows a lot about whisky–he even had a page of his now vanished website devoted to it, therefore I am sure that any of his recommendations will be great.

    I took out a bar of Valrhona, a box of cocoa powder, a bottle of Angel and a sample of Borneo and compared chocolate notes. Angel was sweet by comparison, however I also never think of it as a sweet chocolate. Borneo does my favourite chocolate note even better by making it as dry as possible, with just a hint of something licorice-like. August 30, 2005 at 11:19am Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: Robin, I think that you will find it interesting, whether or not you will want to wear it. Patchouli is definitely there. August 30, 2005 at 11:20am Reply

  • Tania: Now you’ve made it sound absolutely fantastic. Yow.

    As for scotch, I am a devoted single-malt drinker and truth to tell much prefer whisky to wine. Sorry P’s website is gone! I would have liked to have seen it. August 30, 2005 at 11:29am Reply

  • Tania: Bookmarked. Thank you! Tell P. he has excellent taste. And that he should get a bottle of Oban. 😉 August 30, 2005 at 12:13pm Reply

  • Test Subject: Tania, I haven’t been updating that website but the tasting does continue. I enjoy Oban but I’d recommend Talisker if you haven’t already tried it. It has a wonderful caramel undertone. There is no age listed since the distillery blends different ages but it is a single malt. Enjoy! August 30, 2005 at 1:23pm Reply

  • Tania: Already love Talisker. We’ve hijacked this post! Sorry, V. 😉 August 30, 2005 at 2:06pm Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: Nothing to be sorry about! At least, now P. has another connoiseur to discuss whisky with in an intelligent manner. I am slowly learning. 🙂 August 30, 2005 at 2:13pm Reply

  • Tara: Thanks for the great review. I will be in Paris next week sniffing Borneo with N. (parislondres) so I am looking forward to the experience.

    As for scotch, I prefer Balvenie 30. 🙂 August 30, 2005 at 4:40pm Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: Tara, how envious I am that you will get to spend time with our darling N! I hope that your trip will be wonderful, and I cannot wait to hear all of your stories. Please let me know how you like Borneo. August 30, 2005 at 4:56pm Reply

  • Tara: I will of course provide a full report upon my return (if N doesn’t beat me to it!) I will be offline until my return on 9/16. August 30, 2005 at 5:01pm Reply

  • dbeech: Your review really aroused my desire for this fragrance. My wrists are trembling in anticipation. Thanks for writing such a beautiful review. August 31, 2005 at 12:45pm Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: Thank you! I am only doing a justice to this amazing fragrance. It is quite special. I am looking forward to more comments after you try it. August 31, 2005 at 1:01pm Reply

  • Diane: Darling, you have outdone yourself. Such a wonderful review. Truly special, as are you. Borneo sounds magnifico and I am restless in my seat. I have this urge to speed off in my imaginary jet to Paris right this minute (*adding jet to adult wishlist*).

    I’m one of those who love my chocolate as dry as a bone, thus Borneo sounds intensely appealing. I also love Chene. Moreover, although I am not much of a drinker and far, far from a connoiseur, I do love the taste of rum, whisky, and wine. I have P.’s site bookmarked and am going to give it a proper study. Thank you very much, P. 🙂 August 31, 2005 at 2:43pm Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: Oh, you are very kind, dear D! Borneo is very special, and I need to get a full bottle soon, because a sample vial is not enough. I almost do not want to wear anything else at the moment.

    Well, I am far from a connoiseur myself, but it is fun to test new things, especially when one spends a lot of time with someone who knows whiskeys well. 🙂 August 31, 2005 at 4:21pm Reply

  • Bela: I received the wax sample from the Salons the other day. At first sniff I didn’t think it was terribly distinctive, but the more I put my nose to it the more I like it and find it interesting. One more or less only gets middle and base notes in the wax samples; I’d like to find out what the top notes are like.

    V, thanks for the link to my page. 🙂 September 5, 2005 at 10:14pm Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: Dear J, you are welcome! However, it is you who should be thanked. What a terrific resource you have created!

    Yes, you are absolutely right–the top notes are pulled down in the wax/gel base. I find the same thing when I make oil based fragrances, which is why I never attempt a composition with fairly fizzy notes unless it is to be an alcohol based one. Nevertheless, SL wax samples give one a fairly good idea of what to expect. I am completely enchanted by Borneo. September 5, 2005 at 11:23pm Reply

  • carmencanada: Enfin ! I had the time to go to the Palais-Royal and sample Bornéo 1834 in its liquid form… Bought the bottle within a half hour. Whereas I found the wax sample relatively uninteresting, I was immediately taken by that burning blast of bitter chocolate. To my nose, the bitterness evoked artemisia or maybe star anise, which you don’t list in your notes… Could it be the cardamom or the cannabis resin ? And where did you get the notes, they don’t give them out at SL ? October 8, 2005 at 11:12am Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: D, I also noticed the same note, which I identified as licorice for myself, but star anise is also applicable. As for the notes, I think that they are only marginally helpful, because they are a rough guideline as to what can be expected. These came via osmoz.com. Glad to hear that you liked it as well! October 9, 2005 at 1:36pm Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: It is interesting to see how different people perceive scents in different ways. I love Borneo for its beautiful patchouli fragrance. It is one of my favourite notes in general. I am unfortunately well familiar with the forest fires and their acrid smell. However, this fragrance does not make me think of them. Still, I admit that it does not work for everyone. That is the beauty of Lutens’s fragrances for me. December 4, 2006 at 2:37pm Reply

  • millionairess: It is easy for me to dislike this fragrance. I have no romantic inclinations nor exotic impressions of the place having lived so near it. It is a harsh, burnt, bitter and desperately consuming fragrance so in a sense it is a very accurate depiction of Borneo and it’s forest fires; deliberately set by the people. December 4, 2006 at 2:17pm Reply

  • a.: victoria,

    i went to the salons du palais royal a few days ago to sample the serge lutens fragrances but never got a chance to try borneo 1834 until i came home and opened my many wax samples. my friend wrinkled his nose when he first smelled it but immediately a nostalgic smile broke across my face. the patchouli reminded me of my aging grandmother and all the various oils she kept in her medicine cabinet back in “the old country.” not that borneo 1834 is by any means “an old lady” fragrance. breaking open the sample just conjured up sentimental images of a past that i’d long forgotten – warm, dark interiors, soft hushed voices, and a homesickness that makes me a bit teary-eyed just by thinking about it. February 6, 2007 at 9:21am Reply

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