Comme des Garcons Odeur 53 : Perfume Review



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

Abstraction is what modern perfume has been striving for over the course of the 20th century, moving away from the representational genre dominating the previous periods. The first abstract fragrance was Houbigant Fougère Royale (1882), which combined synthetic material coumarin with bergamot, oakmoss and geranium. Elegantly serene abstraction is how Comme des Garçons Odeur 53 can be characterized, a fragrance that is comprised solely of synthetics in its attempt to reproduce such inorganic smells as sand and metal.

Created in 1998 by Martine Pallix, Odeur 53 strikes me as a cubist take on a classical jasmine and wood combination. Abstract is an important qualifier here, since the fragrance does not represent either to the extent that they are obvious. Yet, somehow the composition reveals the essential elements of this pairing—warmth and woody sweetness. Daringly, more than 60% of the formula is comprised of hedione, which is an aromachemical possessing a radiant jasmine quality. …

By itself, hedione is a sensation of luminosity, yet paired with floral notes, it magnifies them and extends their qualities. In Odeur 53, hedione is a bright stream of light that moves across the arrangement. The warmth abstracted from jasmine fills the space, refracting through the mineral and metallic facets.

The juxtaposition of associations is one the most fascinating aspects of Odeur 53, taking one from the Japanese stone garden, with its fragrance of hot sand hanging in the air, to the laundry room, with its smell of fabric softener and plastic crates. Metallic twist of the musk note which has a delicate freshness makes the final result almost addictive as some things that are unconventional can be. As the fragrance dries down on the skin, it attains a gentle, serene softness that makes Odeur 53 quite wearable, despite what the description might indicate. Yet, the glow that filled the initial stages persists while the fragrance lasts, which it does fairly well.

Available from Comme des Garçons boutiques, Barneys New York, Jeffrey New York, Luckyscent, and Sephora.

Painting: Pablo Picasso. Composition. Bowl of Fruit and Sliced Pear. 1914. Wallpaper, gouache and plumbago on cardboard. The Hermitage, St. Petersburg, Russia. From



  • Sisonne: Dear V, I smelled Odeur 53 once & I can´t say if I like or dislike it. I´d call it a rather “strange” scent unlike any other I´ve ever smelled. But it´s certainly not unwearable, as you already pointed out. Unconventional is really the right word. It surely wouldn´t appeal to somebody looking for an everyday scent 😉
    In Germany it gets more & more difficult to find the CdG fragrances in a perfumery. They have changed the distributor & now only 2 scents are still available. I think that´s really sad. October 28, 2005 at 7:03am Reply

  • linda: Beautiful review! This sounds so different from what I usually like that I need to try it. I am just scared of metallic notes. October 28, 2005 at 10:25am Reply

  • mreenymo: Darling, I agree with Laura and parislondres. I’m way too much of a traditionalist to wear this, much less test it.

    The metal and sand parallels however, remind me of the wretched Jean-Baptiste Grenouille in “Perfume.” He spent years attempting to make fragrances out of sand, metal and glass, remember? It sounds like Ms. Pallix finally found a way to do it. She must have read the book numerous times. :):)

    Have a great weekend! Hugs! October 28, 2005 at 11:26am Reply

  • Robin: V, I tried this on a scent strip and did not care for it, but will have to put it on skin next time I am at Barneys. It sounds much more interesting than the first few minutes on paper! October 28, 2005 at 11:28am Reply

  • Laura: I’m afraid I’m a bit of a traditionalist as far as scents go. I like to have a discernible link to (at least one or two) classic notes in any given fragrance. While I really appreciate the daringness of the perfume you describe this morning, I probably wouldn’t be drawn to buy it. However, you never know. ;D I do love reading about them and I thank you for this review. October 28, 2005 at 7:33am Reply

  • Marina: Wow, I had no idea Odeur 53 was created that long ago, 1928. I love your imagery, Vikochka, Japanese sand garden …*sigh* What are your favorite CdG scents? October 28, 2005 at 8:57am Reply

  • parislondres: Love this painting! V – I thought this perfume was created in 1998.
    I agree with Laura – I am a tradionalist too where my perfumes are concerned. 🙂 October 28, 2005 at 9:10am Reply

  • linda: V, can you please describe Tea? Is it a green tea or a black tea smell? October 28, 2005 at 1:50pm Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: C, it is very sad that the distribution is limited, because CdG fragrances are very unusual. I find Odeur 53 quite wearable for day-to-day activities, especially given the soft musk drydown. It has an elegant quality, which persists throughout. October 28, 2005 at 9:50am Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: L, I think that the most appealing thing about Odeur 53 is the soft, luminous quality, which is almost classical. It is however taking the abstraction too far, probably saying that there is a distinct classical element in the cubism. It is an interesting composition, and I hope that you will try it, when you have a chance. It might surprise you pleasantly. October 28, 2005 at 9:54am Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: Marinochka, no, it was created in 1998. Did I make a typo? CdG fragrances did not even start being introduced until 1994. Yet, it could be the scent filling Picasso’s compositions.

    I like several CdG fragrances: Original, Tea, Odeur 71, Kyoto, and Palisander. What about you? Do you like any of them? October 28, 2005 at 9:57am Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: Thank you, N! I like cubism for its ability to present the object from all perspectives at once. I felt that it went with the scent well.

    Have a great weekend! October 28, 2005 at 9:59am Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: Linda, thank you. I do not find metallic notes to be overwhelming, but then again, I like their effect in most fragrances (giving austerity and chill). The effect here is more like a hot starched lined, but it is a very subtle note. October 28, 2005 at 10:33am Reply

  • Evan: I used to wear Odeur 53 when it came out, mostly because it was the only thing at Comme Des Garçons that fit me, besides the scarf I bought. For a completely synthetic composition, it does have a remarkable subtlety, though I did something quite shocking with it: I took to mixing it with jasmine sambac and jasmine grandiflorum absolutes. I only used a small proportion of the absolutes, but it really made a strange perfume in the end.

    I’m not terribly fond of any of the other Comme des Garçons perfumes, as I tend to be a bit of a classicist (and a romantic). I was drawn to the “Synthetic” range of perfumes purely for their uniqueness, and the welcome freedom from the “all-natural” marketing ploys of so many boutique fragrances these days (which I hate mostly because it’s a lie besides being irrelevant), but I found none of them particularly memorable or appealing beyond the initial novelty.

    I’m not that familiar with the other Comme des Garçons “mainstream” perfumes, like White, etc. I had a love interest once who liked them, but he wore Odeur 71 which made me sneeze which was perhaps an appropriate and prescient reaction to a situation doomed to end in heartbreak. And I always think of Luca Turin’s great review of the eponymous “Comme des Garçons” perfume from “Parfums: Le Guide” which called it (paraphrasing) an indo-vegetarian perfume that gives the slightly distressing sensation one gets when one crunches a cardamom seed hidden in a rice biryani. October 28, 2005 at 10:45am Reply

  • Shifts: This is one of the scents I wear most often, on whatever occasion. Definately not as out there as people claim it to be. I think most people read too much into this one after they’ve seen the listing of notes that are supposed to be found here. I find it truely non offensive, subtle and calm.
    A friend of mine told me it didn’t smell like I was wearing cologne, only like my skin had this amazing illuminous scent going on all on it’s own. I found that description being quite to the point on how I experience Odeur 53.

    Never heard of hedione before and now I definately want to learn more about it.

    Thanks for the review, great as always! October 28, 2005 at 11:12am Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: Evan, the original Comme de Garçons perfume first reminded me of crayfish, because of the combination of spices. It is unusual in its treatment of spices without their sweet shimmering aspects. The rest of the “mainstream” range have an edgy touch that makes Rei Kawakubo’s clothing unusual, although certainly less so. They are a mixed bag though, with some being much more interesting that others. I like Tea, Palisander and a couple from Incense Series.

    Synthetic range is appealing for the reason you mention, as it is rather refreshing to discover a line that does not tout its naturalness. I sort of see what you mean about the initial novelty wearing off, even though I think that both Odeur 53 and 71 are rather easy to pull off. They are a nice change from my usual fare, being serene and elegant, especially Odeur 53.

    Your addition of jasmine absolute sounds so great. I would imagine what the effect would be like given Odeur 53’s large percentage of hedione. October 28, 2005 at 11:16am Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: Shifts, I agree completely. For this reason I did not even bother listing all of the notes Comme de Garçons includes, because they tend to predispose to expect something bizzare. It dries down to such a radiant scent that it is very easy to wear. A skin scent that is not boring.

    I wrote an article about hedione a couple of days ago, including a few references if you like to learn more. It is an interesting ingredient with a very unusual effect. October 28, 2005 at 11:21am Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: R (mreenymo), oh, you should try it, if only to experience it. One never knows where a surprising discovery might reside. It is quite wearable. I might have to remove the reference to sand and metal, because there is nothing here that smells exactly like either. Neither like anything in Odeur 53 reminds me of jasmine and sandalwood exactly. Yet, in the end it succeeds in doing so, albeit very abstractly. October 28, 2005 at 11:34am Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: R, on a paper strip it persists in the same way throughout, but on the skin the softness, almost floral delicacy comes out. I think that you might find it rather interesting in the drydown. October 28, 2005 at 11:36am Reply

  • Marina: I like their Tea and Kyoto too, plus Zagorsk, Avignon and Rose. I am really lemming their Tea these days. 🙂 October 28, 2005 at 11:38am Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: M, you are the reason I revisited Tea again, and you are right, it is such a perfect tea based scent for me. So, thank you! October 28, 2005 at 11:50am Reply

  • Evan: V, at the time I had no idea that Odeur 53 had so much Hedione (by the way, you’re the first Google result for Hedione at the moment!) but I must have detected it on some level to be moved to add the jasmines. October 28, 2005 at 12:14pm Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: Evan, oh, you are right! Even Firmenich seems to be further down the list. I am not sure why I find it so amusing.

    I now have to try adding jasmine to see what would happen. I am intrigued by this idea. Will report back soon! October 28, 2005 at 1:13pm Reply

  • Evan: Excellent! I sometimes enjoy adding elements to perfumes, though usually purely as a didactic exercise. I used to sort of feel bad about it, like I was defacing someone’s work, but then I thought about how in the visual arts inspiration and distillation of other art is a time-honored tradition, not to mention collage, so I view it that way. Sometimes I have a vintage perfume that has lost some elements with time and I’ve added them back. I have an old bottle of Shalimar EDT that was a refill bottle for a tester, probably from the 1950s. Over the years, the topnotes had become kind of tired so I added them back, since I was fairly certain I understood what they were (bergamot/lemon) and since it wasn’t really a precious bottle of anything (Shalimar’s hardly rare, even vintage bottles). It actually worked really well! October 28, 2005 at 1:33pm Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: Evan, I am reporting on my experiment. What I have done was to put some Odeur 53 on one strip and 10% dilution of jasmine sambac (in DPG) and to stick them in your Monclin. Fascinating! The result is even edgier than what CdG envisioned, because suddently all of the radiance of hedione is activated and jasmine expands in an almost exponential fashion (not sure how else to put it). It is as if I can feel it unfolding more and more. It loses the subtle, serene quality of the original though, and it does not make it seem more “natural.” It is anything but natural. Next thing would be to try it with jasmine auriculatum, which has a more mineral, herbal smell. I should try it on the skin as well, but my arms are already covered with vintage Bellodgia and Coty L’Origan. Now, I need to search on Ebay for a bottle of the latter, because it is such a beauty. A subject for another post, no doubt!

    P.S. It is much more perfumey now, and even if interesting, I think that it just obstructs the original composition for me. Still, such an interesting exercise. October 28, 2005 at 1:45pm Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: Linda, it is a smoky, tarry tea. As someone who does not care for light pale tea notes, this one really appealed to me. On the other hand, I reach for Tea For Two more often. October 28, 2005 at 2:09pm Reply

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