Comme des Garcons Black : Perfume Review

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If you’ve never tried any Comme des Garçons fragrances, think of the stuff you might smell at your car mechanic–tar, machine grease, burnt rubber. Today’s collection includes more than a dozen perfumes, and by and large, they have an industrial, deliberately synthetic feel (even if created with natural materials.)  To some people, these are the ultimate edgy perfumes, to others–smells to avoid.

kandinsky

Whatever camp you belong to, Black Eau de Toilette is likely to be a love it or hate it perfume. The name doesn’t lie–it’s a dark, potent brew. If you’ve ever dreamed of smelling like molten asphalt or barbecued ribs or a cross between the two, then your wish has come true.

I thought that no fragrance could shock me, but Black did. It opened with a blast of tar and black pepper, acrid and pungent. Most fragrances might tease with smoke and become more civilized, but Black continues to roar. Even when the tar mellows down, the pepper continues to burn.

There are many different things going on in Black–the sweet smoke, maple syrup, black licorice, but overall, the perfume smells of charred wood and pepper.

The drydown has a surprisingly tender leather wrapped in musks. I was ready for anything but didn’t expect this soft touch of suede. The sweetness of licorice tones down the smoky, tarry notes, which is not enough to tame Black, but sufficient to dispel some of the smoke.

When I first tried Black, I appreciated its creativity, but I didn’t want to wear it beyond the initial testing session.  Over the next few weeks, however, I’ve been thinking about it and dipping into my bottle to check whether it really smelled as dark and smoky as I remembered it. It did. Then, I noticed something else. The curious thing was how cleverly the perfumer Guillaume Flavigny balanced the composition and in spite of its dark and smoky combination of notes, Black ended up smelling like an edgier version of a woody oriental. It was avant-garde but grounded in classical themes.

It’s been over two years since I first started writing down my observations on Black, and since then I’ve been wearing it on a regular basis. It no longer shocks me, but it still thrills me. The great tenacity and diffusion of Black means that it can do so over the course of several hours.

cdg black

Comme des Garçons Black lists notes of black pepper, Somalian incense, leather, licorice, birch tar, pepperwood, vetiver, and cedarwood. Available in Comme des Garçons boutiques, aedes.com, luckyscent.com. 100ml spray bottle/$100

Painting: Wassily Kandinsky. Around the Circle. 1940. The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, USA.

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54 Comments

  • Annie: I don’t know if I want to smell like tar, but I do want to smell that perfume! October 15, 2018 at 1:00pm Reply

  • Cybele: Thanks so much for the review,

    I LOVE THIS!

    I especially love it for the black licorice note. October 15, 2018 at 1:59pm Reply

    • Victoria: Isn’t it irresistible? October 17, 2018 at 10:25am Reply

  • Klaas: Hahaha, Victoria, thank you for another excellent review! This perfume surprised me, too, in many ways. In general, I dislike grand fragrances. Don’t get me wrong, I can admire them on a blotter – or on other people for that matter – I just don’t like to wear them. I feel very happy and comfortable with light, transparant scents……basicaly, Ellena is my hero!

    But – to my own surprise – Black is one of the exceptions to my minimal tastes. I loved it since I discovered it 3 years ago. Yes, it’s dense, it’s loud, it’s excentric, but gosh does it smell good on me! Smoke, pepper, licorice, vetiver, frankinscence, ash……you are right, classic ingredients in a way, but thrown together in a witches brew that is baroque and edgy at the same time. Like I wrote in your previous post, it makes me purr every time I wear it…….Like a witches cat maybe? October 15, 2018 at 6:05pm Reply

    • Victoria: Your description would have made me want to try Black, if I had not tried it already. 🙂 Brilliant! October 17, 2018 at 10:28am Reply

  • Eric Brandon: This was the first perfume I bought to celebrate my being hired at my current job. It was affordable, strong, and one of a kind. My boyfriend calls it my barbecue perfume, but I adore wearing it. I find the initial burst so addictive that I have to resist reapplying. I have a lot left still (I have bought more bottles than I care to admit) but I know I’ll use every drop. October 16, 2018 at 12:30am Reply

    • Victoria: At first, the initial burst shocked me, but now I look forward to it, and like you, I’m tempted to reapply. October 17, 2018 at 10:29am Reply

  • Dorothy Van Daele: Thank you for reviewing Black! I want to try it and especially as it has stood the test of time, both from application to drydown and over repeated uses. I love Comme des Garçons 2, and I imagine Black as perhaps having some similarities.

    I am going to Turkey, arriving in and leaving from Istanbul. Are there any places you or other readers can recommend for perfume? October 16, 2018 at 10:18am Reply

    • Victoria: Nishane and Arabian Oud perfume houses have stores in Istanbul, and you can have fun smelling different perfume oils in the Grand Bazaar (except that I’d be careful when buying, especially oud, since quality varies dramatically.) October 17, 2018 at 10:34am Reply

      • Dorothy Van Daele: Thank you Victoria. October 17, 2018 at 2:38pm Reply

  • Matty: Thank you for this review. It certainly sounds interesting. October 16, 2018 at 10:51am Reply

    • Victoria: It’s an intriguing perfume. October 17, 2018 at 10:35am Reply

  • Qwendy: I have been so curious about this scent, delighted you have reviewed it, now I know I need it, thank you! So hard to find edgy smoky scents …. I have Vi et Armis which I love, but there must be more …. anybody? October 16, 2018 at 10:55am Reply

    • Tara C: Naomi Goodsir Bois d’Ascèse is very smoky. October 16, 2018 at 5:20pm Reply

      • Qwendy: Thank you! October 17, 2018 at 3:41am Reply

    • Victoria: There used to be the wonderful Eau du Fier by Goutal… October 17, 2018 at 10:36am Reply

      • Qwendy: Right! I wasn’t into smoky scents at the time but my husband wore it and I loved it …. darn! October 17, 2018 at 11:02am Reply

        • Victoria: It only takes one! October 17, 2018 at 11:09am Reply

        • Victoria: I like Eau d’Italie Sienne en Hiver, but it may not be smoky enough for you. October 17, 2018 at 11:10am Reply

          • Qwendy: Thanks but I think you are right …. have you tried Vi et Armis? It’s truly wild! October 17, 2018 at 5:24pm Reply

            • Victoria: I haven’t! I need to try it. October 18, 2018 at 3:50am Reply

  • OnWingsofSaffron: Your review made me think of a (relatively well priced) attar Al Shomoukh by Amouage I bouggt blind on ebay. Tar, asphalt, burnt rubber, and a rose very, very far away. Oud probably, perhaps all those burning highway in the desert smells are oud?! I‘d never buy it again and it is next to unwearable. I dilute it very lightly in a bottle of Dr. Hauschka Rose body oil, and there it gives a pleasant little kick 😏 October 16, 2018 at 11:51am Reply

    • Qwendy: That sounds fascinating! October 17, 2018 at 3:42am Reply

      • OnWingsofSaffron: … problem for me is it doesn‘t smell fascinating! October 17, 2018 at 11:29am Reply

      • OnWingsofSaffron: BTW: a colleague brought me five ripe quinces from her garden. Just opened my backsack to put back the mobile phone and what a wonderful, heavenly scent. Just imagine a perfume that voluptuous! October 17, 2018 at 11:46am Reply

        • Victoria: I know that Calice Becker has tried creating a quince accord, but I don’t know if it ended up in a fragrance. It’s quite difficult to pull it off, since quinces smell of violets (ionones are naturally present in their aroma), but they also have a sweet, overripe odor, which doesn’t translate well.

          What are you going to do with your quinces? October 17, 2018 at 12:34pm Reply

          • OnWingsofSaffron: I fried two of them in a lot of brown butter with allspice and long pepper, then continued frying the fruit with diced tofu. Then over pasta—lovely midweek dinner. October 17, 2018 at 3:49pm Reply

            • Qwendy: I still think I have to try that Attar 🌚 and I have always wondered what Quince is …. I see that it is Coing here, must try … altogether a very sensually stimulating conversation thanks! October 17, 2018 at 5:22pm Reply

              • Victoria: In France, it’s most often made into jam or jelly, which is just about the most perfect thing one could have with cheese. October 18, 2018 at 3:51am Reply

                • Aurora: Oh, yes, that’s right especially jelly in France, the color looks like topaz. Here in the UK, I buy quince jam at the Turkish store, it’s very good; the jam is made of quite large pieces of quince in syrup, I think Turkish people eat it while drinking coffee. October 20, 2018 at 11:57am Reply

                  • Victoria: In Greece, they serve these kind of jams with large chunks of fruit as spoon sweets. They taste wonderful with bitter coffee. October 22, 2018 at 10:43am Reply

            • Victoria: Sounds delicious and interesting. I never cook tofu out of the Asian context, but of course, it would go well with a richly flavored fruit like quince. October 18, 2018 at 3:50am Reply

        • Andy: How lucky! Caldrea used to have a Vanilla Quince Santal candle, which was a holiday limited edition. Suprisingly enough, it had a beautiful baked quince aroma, with a generous dose of cardamom too. It was extraordinarily good. October 18, 2018 at 9:24am Reply

    • Victoria: I haven’t tried that attar, but if I go based on your description, Black seems easier to wear. October 17, 2018 at 10:36am Reply

      • OnWingsofSaffron: In the Oman (Jebel Akhdar) there are rose distilleries producing Omani rose water. I was so eager to buy this, but boy what a disappointment! It smelled like the water you have after cleaning your outdoor BBQ gadget. Burnt meat and grill. Rosa damascena: nope!
        I guess as with the Amouage attar, it is a completely different scent culture. This was probably wild and original Arabia, but completely useless for Northern European sensibilities. Still a great experience 😏 October 17, 2018 at 11:42am Reply

        • Victoria: I did enjoy the traditional attars I tried in Oman, but my favorite attars were the North Indian ones. I loved their complexity and their softness. October 17, 2018 at 12:32pm Reply

  • Melania: I love the smell of napalm in the morning.

    It smells like victory. October 16, 2018 at 3:16pm Reply

    • Victoria: Depends on what one seeks to win. October 17, 2018 at 10:38am Reply

  • Natalie: “If you’ve ever dreamed of smelling like molten asphalt or barbecued ribs or a cross between the two, then your wish has come true.” As far as dreams go that sounds like my worst nightmare come true. Appreciate your reviews, however this is a hard pass. October 16, 2018 at 8:35pm Reply

    • Victoria: It might just surprise you. October 17, 2018 at 10:38am Reply

  • zephyr: I’ll sniff this and maybe spray it on a test strip when I come across it – and try to keep an open mind, lol! Black doesn’t sound like it’s up my alley at all, but testing it just for fun, for the experience, can’t hurt. I might be able to recommend it to someone I know.
    Just out of curiosity – could this be a unisex fragrance? October 17, 2018 at 10:47am Reply

    • Victoria: I also didn’t think so at all, and at first I really disliked it. Yet, it really grew on me. October 17, 2018 at 11:07am Reply

  • Richard Goller: Great review, Victoria. I love this experimental fragrance. But then I also love CDG Garage. October 18, 2018 at 11:33am Reply

    • Victoria: I like that one too. October 22, 2018 at 10:29am Reply

  • Nancy A.: I always appreciated Rei Kawakubo for her creations specifically fashion however when it comes to her fragrances she never appealed to my olfactory taste. Throwing this level of notes that you characterize brought a smile to my face: it was only yesterday that I visited the beauty level at Saks Fifth Avenue NY and was given a sample of Frederic Malle’s MUSIC FOR A WHILE Carlos Benaim (the nose) to test and return with a review. Here again, Benaim chose notes that clearly does not appeal to everyone’s taste (least of which mine) but falls into the same eccentricity as Rei. Would be interested to get your take on this fragrance. What’s happening here? October 18, 2018 at 1:36pm Reply

    • Victoria: I haven’t tried it yet! October 22, 2018 at 10:29am Reply

  • ramin1215: Hello
    Did not you see Ginger in this fragrance? Is this color space probably not related to Licorice? October 20, 2018 at 5:04am Reply

    • Victoria: Yes, there is a gingerbread accord. October 22, 2018 at 10:41am Reply

  • Aurora: It sounds like a very interesting perfume, Victoria, thank you for reviewing it. The mention of pepper peaked my interest, I remain faithfull to a 90’s perfume in summer, it is Kenzo l’Eau, no longer trendy or taled about, but its pepper note goes very well with summer for some reason, it is cooling rather than warm and I don’t know how that was achieved. October 20, 2018 at 11:48am Reply

    • Aurora: *faithful of course, sorry for the typo October 21, 2018 at 9:54am Reply

    • Victoria: Yes, it’s a black pepper notes, dry and spicy. October 22, 2018 at 10:42am Reply

  • David: In a way, it kind of reminds me of the Hermès Equipage, which has a smokey beginning and then a very classical structure. This might be going on my Christmas list – I’m working through two samples, and adore it. Thanks for mentioning it! November 5, 2018 at 11:14pm Reply

    • Victoria: I see what you mean! An edgier, if you will, version. November 6, 2018 at 5:28am Reply

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