Balenciaga Talisman : Perfume Review



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

An animalic fruity chypre, Balenciaga Talisman exemplifies the type of genre that while still explored in the transitional period between the heft and opulence of the 80s perfumes and the minimalism of the 1990s, has been on the steady decline ever since. In general, animalic chypre inaugurated by Chanel Cuir de Russie (1921) cannot be named as a popular category, although over the years, especially when crossed with the fruity chypre, it has produced beautiful compositions that are still considered to be the gold standards of the classical perfumery—aggressive leather of Robert Piguet Bandit (1944), civet melted on honey of Schiaparelli Shocking (1937), refinement of Christian Dior Miss Dior (1947), exquisite dryness of Grés Cabochard(1959), to name a few. …

Talisman was created in 1994 by Dominique Preyssas. The perfume trends of the early to mid 1990s are difficult to sum up in one word, as they were set by the diverse genres: the oriental heavy hitters like Chopard Casmir (1991), Thierry Mugler Angel (1994) and Kenzo Jungle Elephant (1996), the ozonic fruity compositions a la Calvin Klein Escape (1991) and Issey Miyake L’Eau d’Issey (1992), the intense florals in the manner of Givenchy Amarige (1991) and Lancôme Trésor (1990), as well as the minimalist arrangements inspired by Bulgari Eau Parfumée (1992) and Calvin Klein Ck One (1994). I wonder how Talisman would have struck me at the time of its release. Unfortunately, it did not cross my path then.

I find it very curious that although I enjoy wearing fragrances from the teens and the twenties of the last century, Talisman strikes me now as dated. On the one hand, I can attribute it to my tastes, because the combination of the dark fruity notes with the dense amber and beeswax base renders it heavier than my usual favorites. Indeed, throughout the transition from the jammy sweetness of fruit to the buttery richness of floral notes, and then to the honeyed animalic base, one is never allowed a moment of olfactory respite. On another, it is a matter of the current trends. Over the past decade, the increasing availability of new materials with greater radiance and transparency has allowed perfumers to infuse even the heaviest of modern compositions with light and sparkle.

Yet, the drydown of Talisman is appealing, because the animalic accord that unfolds after the Christmas fruitcake like density of the top and middle notes is quite sensual and striking. It displays the animalic aspect of honey, the winey glow of ambergris and the darkness of civet. The only contemporary comparison I can draw is with Serge Lutens Muscs Koublaï Khan, although Serge Lutens is more polished. All the same, it makes me wish for more attention to be paid to the animalic chypre genre, since a category this intriguing simply should not be ignored.

Talisman includes notes of violet leaves, davana, litchi, rum, osmanthus; hyacinth, rose, orchid, freesia, ylang-ylang, clove; amber, iris. It is available from a variety of online retailers, as this Froggle search indicates.

For reviews of other Balenciaga fragrances please see:
Le Dix

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  • Liz: Thanks for the review, V. I owned Talisman for a while and then gave it away to a friend because I found I wasn’t wearing it all that often. I did like it quite a bit, however, and found it very autumnal – a bit of a fermenting-fruit impression. I have to say it wasn’t very animalic on my skin. I also know it is classified as a fruity chypre, but am a bit mystified as to where the chypre can be found in that list of notes? To me it smelled primarily of dried fruit and amber. May 8, 2006 at 9:33am Reply

  • Robin: Lovely review of something that I am sure to hate 🙂 May 8, 2006 at 10:52am Reply

  • Marina: A lovely review of a lovely fragrance. Unfortunately I cannot wear Talisman 🙁 I too find it heavy…and it is funny because I don’t really shy away from heavy, rich, animalic scent…I mean I can wear MKK with the best of them 🙂 This is just something about this particular kind of heaviness (sweet and heavy, is that it, maybe?) that I find hard to wear. May 8, 2006 at 9:16am Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: M, I find Talisman unbearably heavy too, because it has too much of everything. It is a heavy Alsatian meal type of fragrance for me. MKK and other heavy fragrances I like are nowhere as dense. May 8, 2006 at 2:57pm Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: Liz, it has the classical chypre structure, including oakmoss and amber in the base. The list of notes is the only “official” thing I could find, but I smell many other things in Talisman as well. The base is amber heavy, but it is an animalic amber + urinous quality of beeswax. May 8, 2006 at 2:59pm Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: R, yes, you would definitely dislike it more than I did. May 8, 2006 at 3:00pm Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: T, I cannot agree more on the vegetal quality of leather in Bandit. Actually, ask E. to give you some isobutyl quinoline to sniff, if he has it, because it will be very interesting to smell the raw material and Bandit side by side. Isobutyl quinoline has the dry, bitter green quality to it.

    As for Talisman, it is an olfactory overload for me and completely unwearable given my usual preferences. If you compare it and something like Youth Dew Amber Nude (which I once called heavy) side by side, you can see how the raw materials and the principles of compositions have changed over the past decade. Youth Dew Amber Nude is so much more radiant. May 8, 2006 at 3:04pm Reply

  • Tania: Never seen this one, let alone smelled it. It sounds, er, sort of horrible? (Of course, Muscs Koublai Khan is sort of my nightmare fragrance.) I’m wearing vintage Bandit today, coincidentally, and it is spectacular, although I can’t figure out if I think of it as animalic or not. The leather is so austere and bitter green that it’s much more vegetable than animal. 😉 May 8, 2006 at 11:13am Reply

  • violetnoir: Awww…I really like this one, V! I think it probably smells best in cooler weather and, for some reason, on me it is not that heavy. Just jammy and plummy and delightful.

    Plus, it can be found on the web for like $15.!

    Hugs! May 8, 2006 at 4:05pm Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: R, it is an interesting fragrance and quite striking, I cannot agree more. I just cannot wear the combination of some many rich, dense things in one composition. I can see that in the cooler weather it might be better, but for me, that does not make a difference. Speaking of, it has been pretty chilly here over the past few days, quite uncharacteristically so. Where is the spring?! May 8, 2006 at 4:14pm Reply

  • marchlion: Wow… giggling at something compared to MKK but less polished. Um, I think I’ll leave this one alone! However, I enjoyed re-browsing your favorites very much. We are fans of a number of the same things. I need to get some more of the Delrae, I enjoyed that very much and used up my sample. I was surprised how negative the response was to that line, overall. May 8, 2006 at 4:27pm Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: March, the drydown is reminiscent to MKK, but nothing that precedes it.

    I did not realize that DelRae was not well received, although I can see how many fragrances would be a bit challenging. Yet, this challenge is what I like about them, because they have signature and character, which is not something one can say about most perfumes that come out these days. Speaking of Talisman, it certainly has signature and character as well. May 8, 2006 at 7:43pm Reply

  • Emma: I have to go with Liz on this, it reads more like a floriental with dark fruity notes than a fruity chypre. It reminded me right away of Caron Montaigne which I find dated, I’m referring to the original 1986 version, whereas to me Talisman is similar yet more radiant, less dramatic and dense, more casual, relaxed and fun. I don’t get strong animalic base either, definitely nothing like Muscs Koublaï Khan. Is it possible this had been reformulated at one point before its discontinuation and there are different vintage versions out there? February 28, 2015 at 3:43pm Reply

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