L’Artisan Parfumeur Timbuktu : Perfume Review

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Tim

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

The striking feature of L’Artisan Parfumeur Timbuktu, a dry composition of woods, vetiver and incense, is its incredible radiance. The fragrance has a marvelous soaring quality, from the top notes of pepper and citrus to the earthy drydown of patchouli and musk. It is as if the dark, dense notes are interspersed with fresh, effervescent layers, resulting in a fragrance that combines the rich warmth of cognac with the shimmery brightness of champagne.

Timbuktu was created by perfumer Bertrand Duchaufour in 2004 as part of L’Artisan’s voyage collection, and was inspired by his travels in Mali, Africa. The fragrance is built as a classical composition of dry woods, with vetiver, sandalwood and patchouli forming a beautiful triptych. This vivid combination sets the prelude for Timbuktu, with pepper and grapefruit lending it an appealing freshness. Yet surprisingly, the freshness expands further as the composition dries down. It is not the conventional note of citrus or generic lavender, but rather the brightness of wood sap and sweet pine resin. As Timbuktu changes on the skin from spicy incense to smoky woods, its freshness takes on a beguiling and sensual character. In the late drydown, Timbuktu is remarkably similar to the sweet and salty intimacy of warm skin.

Of all L’Artisan fragrances, Timbuktu is by far the most innovative and memorable. It achieves not only a sustained radiance and great diffusion, but also evolves beautifully. Every time I wear it, I find something else to admire about this simple, yet remarkably polished fragrance—a rich note of incense, the chilly burst of green herbal notes, the seductive caress of vanilla. A similar contrast was later explored by Terre d’Hermès, a runaway commercial success for Jean-Claude Ellena. Timbuktu has a darker, moodier beauty about it, however, which never fails to move me. It is my fragrance of choice for days whenever I want something androgynous, yet with a brooding, dramatic character.

L’Artisan Parfumeur Timbuktu (fragrance family: dry woods) includes notes of pink pepper, green mango, coffee bush flower, karo karounde, cumin, myrrh, patchouli, vetiver, musk, incense, and vanilla. It is worth exploring if you enjoy Tom Ford Tuscan Leather, Comme des Garçons Tea (Series 1 Leaves), Jo Malone 154 and vetiver rich fragrances. The L’Artisan line is available from Aedes, Beautycafe, Beautyhabit, and Luckyscent, as well as Henri Bendel, Bergdorf Goodman, Barneys, and Neiman Marcus.

Sample: my own acquisition.

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52 Comments

  • Olfactoria: This is another one on my “must try eventually” list and your review did nothing to change that. 😉 March 16, 2011 at 4:21am Reply

  • Ines: I love Timbuktu. I don’t wear it often but I love it. It clears my thinking and lifts off stress from my shoulders. I find it very useful when dealing with problems I’m not sure how to solve. March 16, 2011 at 4:35am Reply

  • *jen: I need to try this now. I am craving scents like this at the moment. March 16, 2011 at 7:07am Reply

  • Todd T: Its like I am immune to this one. Every time I smell it, I go oh thats interesting, but when I put it on me, I get nothing! Has anyone ever had that happen? I really do like how its smells on a test strip, on me I just don’t smell it. March 16, 2011 at 9:46am Reply

  • Linda Fey: Thank you Victoria for this lovely review.
    I came close to visiting Timbuktu many years ago,
    when I came to Mali. But alas my time had run out and we had to
    return to Ghana.
    When I smelled this wonderful fragrance last year, I instantly fell
    in love….felt as if, somehow, I had actually made it to
    Timbuktu!
    It is indeed very special.
    Smiles.
    L March 16, 2011 at 9:53am Reply

  • Victoria: I can see why! It uses some quite heavy woody aroma-materials, to which some people may be slightly less sensitive. I have noticed it with some woody-ambers, and BD uses them quite lavishly in his formulas. March 16, 2011 at 9:53am Reply

  • Victoria: I hope that you will try it soon, it is excellent! March 16, 2011 at 9:59am Reply

  • Victoria: It definitely functions the same for me, and you’ve put it nicely. March 16, 2011 at 10:04am Reply

  • Victoria: I love vetiver and various takes on its theme. March 16, 2011 at 10:04am Reply

  • sweetlife: Thank you for this lovely review. So glad this one is still around and intact. Duchaufour seems to have a knack for hitting that sweet spot between weirdness and viability, doesn’t he? March 16, 2011 at 10:05am Reply

  • Victoria: Clarity is really an incredible feature of Timbuktu, and it is the first thing of which I become aware whenever I put it on. I love how it maintains this brilliant quality and yet retains a certain dusky, brooding moodiness about it.

    I love the photo, thank you for posting the link! March 16, 2011 at 10:08am Reply

  • Victoria: I have never visited Africa, and it is someplace I really hope to go at some point. I can close, I saw its shores, but never stepped on its soil.

    The fact that Timbuktu connected with your memories of Africa makes it even more special somehow. March 16, 2011 at 10:11am Reply

  • Victoria: He really does, and it is the reason why I admire his work so much. It does not mean that I want to wear everything he creates, but for the most part, it really makes me think. His compositions are really quite memorable. March 16, 2011 at 10:12am Reply

  • bloody frida: This fragrance always makes me happy for some reason! thanks for the lovely review March 16, 2011 at 11:43am Reply

  • patuxxa: I adore Timbuktu, no other scent I’ve ever sniffed gives such an amazing feeling of clarity. It makes me think of crisp, clear morning skies. In fact, a while ago I found this photo on Wiki Commons and thought, “exactly!” I don’t think any other scent has given me such strong visual cues as Timbuktu.

    PS: Curiously enough, today I’m wearing Bois Farine – the scent of a kitchen when you’ve just finished putting your cake in the oven. March 16, 2011 at 7:46am Reply

  • Marina: Oh, a pang of nostalgia! 🙂 March 16, 2011 at 11:59am Reply

  • Olfacta: Halloween night, last year, I was celebrating the holiday with some friends, and found a decant of Timbuktu in an evening purse I’d put there previously and forgotten. We had ourselves a little unisex Timbuktu sniff-a-thon. Everyone loved it and it always reminds me of that night. March 16, 2011 at 12:29pm Reply

  • Gitcheegumee: Y’all had me at “clarity of thinking”. Heck,I’d GO to Timbuktu for that possibilty !

    Sounds like this fragrance is right down my alley. Woody and peppery? Corruscating cognac?

    Where’s my passport?

    Thanks,V.

    BTW,off topic: I received the Bellodgia last evening. Incroyable! At first whiff,I thought of Old Spice(which I adore thanks to a former paramour)-then it dried down into a glorious scent with good sillage.

    I may never actually make it to Lake Como,but with Bellagio in a bottle of Bellodgia,my daydreams are now infused with the voluptuous scent of that region.

    Thank you so much for the suggestion. March 16, 2011 at 1:18pm Reply

  • Skilletlicker: I am so thrilled that you have FINALLY reviewed this exquisite idiosyncratic scent. It is my favorite L’Artisan, maybe my favorite scent of all. And now this review is my favorite of all your reviews. I also really like Dzongkha from the voyage series and third would be Poivre Piquant. Thank you! March 16, 2011 at 1:25pm Reply

  • Dionne: OK, you definitely convinced me. Timbuktu has just moved to the top of my TBS list (aka to-be-sampled, a phrase I borrowed from the book blogger community, the TBR pile) My TBS list is starting to resemble my mental TBR pile in terms of sheer length. March 16, 2011 at 1:41pm Reply

  • Victoria: I’m so glad that it has so many fans! It’s really one of the best L’Artisan fragrances. March 16, 2011 at 2:02pm Reply

  • Victoria: … for your L’Artisan days? 🙂 March 16, 2011 at 2:03pm Reply

  • Victoria: That’s such a great memory!
    Whenever I try to introduce someone to niche perfumery (or to good perfumery in general, that’s different from the mainstream lines,) I always take them to a L’Artisan counter. It offers so many different options. March 16, 2011 at 2:04pm Reply

  • Victoria: I was so pleased to read these comments, and it is really fascinating to see how many of us think of Timbuktu in a similar way–crisp, brilliant, radiant. And not just in terms of how it smells, but also how it makes us feel. That’s quite interesting!

    Thank you for your comments about Bellodgia. I am so happy that it resonated with you. The other day, with our recent conversation about it on my mind, I stopped by the Caron counter and revisited it. So beautiful! March 16, 2011 at 2:08pm Reply

  • Victoria: Thank you, I am happy that I could please. 🙂 It is not difficult to find something positive to say about Timbuktu, because it is exquisite, as you said so well. And quite memorable too.
    Dzongkha is my other top favorite from L’Artisan. March 16, 2011 at 2:12pm Reply

  • Victoria: As I read your comment, I glanced around the room at the towering piles of to-be-read books. Yes, I can relate so well to what you describe!! March 16, 2011 at 2:14pm Reply

  • OperaFan: Timbuktu smells horrible on me, but on my husband, it’s as if it’s a different perfume entirely. He liked its quality enough that I gave it to him 2 Christmases ago to replace his emptied bottle of Eau du Fier (since it’s no longer obtainable outside France). I sampled Dzonka only once a couple of years ago, but really liked its exotic herbal freshness – at least the way I recall it. March 16, 2011 at 2:59pm Reply

  • Victoria: That’s a great description of Dzongkha! I think of it this way myself (plus, iris incense!) March 16, 2011 at 6:15pm Reply

  • key change: I always get a bit nervous when scents are described as androgenous, because I’m typically drawn towards traditionally feminine scents; however, you have a way with words that basically makes me want to try everything you review. I may be wrong, but I think there may be an L’Artisin counter at a Holt renfrew in this country of mine with not nearly enough perfume. How I wish I had a perfume buddy! March 16, 2011 at 6:47pm Reply

  • Natalia: Oh, I’m so in love with Timbuktu! Your beautiful, as always, review, V, was the last straw – i’m on my way to find a full bottle… It’s not only unusual, radiant and comforting, but just as you have noted, resembles the sweet and salty skin notes – very intimate and sexy. March 16, 2011 at 6:59pm Reply

  • Victoria: I believe that Holt Renfrew does carry L’Artisan, if I am not mistaken. Maybe, other Canadians can chime in and correct me.

    You have plenty of perfume buddies here! 🙂 March 16, 2011 at 9:27pm Reply

  • Victoria: I am happy that you also see the sweet-salty interplay in Timbuktu. It is one of my favorite aspects of it. March 16, 2011 at 9:28pm Reply

  • aotearoa: This and Dzing! are my favourite L’Artisans. Timbuktu took a while for me to appreciate and it’s mt next bottle when the budget allows…
    Lovely review. March 16, 2011 at 9:33pm Reply

  • Dionne: I don’t think it does – I just checked out the Holt Renfrew website, and L’Artisan is not listed under the fragrances they carry, and I haven’t seen it in the Calgary Holt Renfrew. However, the Toronto and Vancouver stores carry lines not available at other locations (Frederic Malle *sigh* the Les Exclusifs *swoon*), so if the website is in error you might find L’Artisan there. March 16, 2011 at 9:58pm Reply

  • Victoria: Timbuktu was an immediate love for me either. It definitely grew on me over time. I love Dzing! too. March 16, 2011 at 10:47pm Reply

  • Victoria: L’Artisan website is maddening, I cannot figure out where they actually sell their perfumes in brick & mortar.

    Yet, I do see this number for US and Canada retail:
    Customer Service toll free # 877-601-0440 March 16, 2011 at 10:48pm Reply

  • axum: I’ve been to Timbuktu, but I’ve never sniffed this. After reading your review, a sample is on order 🙂 March 17, 2011 at 1:17am Reply

  • Victoria: Oh, it is a must for you! I would be curious if it does make you think of Africa. March 17, 2011 at 10:04am Reply

  • violetnoir: I am wearing this today, and you are right, V! Timbuktu has a luminous quality to it.

    Hugs! March 17, 2011 at 10:25am Reply

  • Victoria: For some reason, I find it just perfect for these crisp, early spring days! March 17, 2011 at 10:55am Reply

  • Lynn Morgan: Sounds swoon worthy! March 17, 2011 at 6:46pm Reply

  • Victoria: It is wonderful! March 18, 2011 at 10:51am Reply

  • the_good_life: This is a beautiful and spot-on description of how I recall Timbuktu. But what I smelled out of a recent flacon (the new design, which is being dumped on the grey market at 50% retail) is a shrivelled, one-dimensional piece of synthetic drugstore-hell. Can somebody who has both older and newer versions of this confirm that Timbuktu has been destroyed? December 27, 2014 at 8:08am Reply

  • natalya baranova: For me, every scent by l’artisan parfumeur I tried disintegrates within 20 minutes into a sharp smell of low quality soap (‘khozyaystvennoe’) December 28, 2014 at 1:06am Reply

  • Mahesh: I bought this recently, a gift box of 3 miniatures from TKMaxx that contain Timbuktu, Coeur de Vetiver Sacre and Fou d’Absinthe.
    Unfortunately, all I get from Timbuktu is chilly herbal note all the time. Maybe they have weakened the composition, not sure. I love Coeur de Vetiver Sacre though. Fou d’Absinthe is nice but not so long lasting. January 2, 2015 at 9:38am Reply

    • Victoria: Hmmm, I’ll have to try it and compare! January 4, 2015 at 1:43pm Reply

  • Rocamadour: I have both, the older and newer version. It is for sure: L’artisan has destroyed one of his most biutiful compositions. All I get from the newer version is a flet herbal note like Mahesh desribed. The quality standards of L’artisan are such a shame. Don’t buy the new Version of Timbuktu. January 6, 2015 at 10:33am Reply

    • Victoria: That’s too bad. I will now have to compare them too. January 6, 2015 at 10:46am Reply

  • Polly: Such a lovely review – thank you!

    I adore Timbuktu, adore it, but sometimes I feel the need for something a little more floral or light or green to sit alongside it. Do you have any layering suggestions? June 1, 2015 at 12:04pm Reply

    • Victoria: What about Fleur de Liane, also from L’Artisan? I imagine it might work, and they are made by the same perfumer. June 2, 2015 at 1:00pm Reply

  • Tulsi: I love Timbuktu and have been wanting to buy a full bottle for ages. We’ll be in France in a few weeks, so though it’s be a nice opportunity.

    I’m sorry hear the newer version has been reformulated so badly though. If there’s any more news I’d love to hear your opinions. June 23, 2015 at 3:47pm Reply

    • Victoria: I haven’t yet tried the newest version, but I hope to do so. I love this perfume. June 24, 2015 at 2:40pm Reply

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