|Photo, Rose Strang|
The sensuous and cedar-woody perfume for women, Feminite du Bois was, to the dismay of those who loved it, discontinued by Shiseido in the late 90s then re-formulated in 2009 by Serge Lutens. I've had a full bottle of this lovely stuff since 2011, but I've always wondered what the original formulation was like.
Curiosity led to my buying a small decant (from Surrender to Chance.com) of the original Shiseido version of FdB, created in 1992, so I can offer my humble opinion on differences between the two, bearing in mind I'm not a perfumer of course, just a perfume appreciator.
For this reason, after noting down my comparisons, I asked for opinions from fellow perfume reviewers online, and it seems that other than a few minor differences in detail, most of us share the same general impressions, though of course there are exceptions!
Before I begin to compare and contrast, I'd say that generally both versions have a similarly natural wood/plum/spice boozy yet light/transparent quality. The effect is sensual, grounded and relaxing and it is indeed a feminine take on cedar wood (which is traditionally more evident in masculine perfumes). But FdB has no frills, the tone is autumnal and redolent of harvested fruits. The cedar is utterly authentic, full of wood sap and reminiscent of the scent when you pull the cork on a bottle of excellent Syrah wine - an astringent, mouth-drawing purple tanin scent, alongside the dry pencil-shavings note cedar always contains
Shiseido - Honey, carnation, ginger, cedar, cinnamon, rose, orange blossom, plum, violet, peach, beeswax, cloves, cardamom, sandalwood, musk, benzoin, vanilla
Lutens - Cedar, cinnamon, plum, peach, clove, yland, violet, orange blossom, ginger, rose, vanilla, musk, sandalwood, benzoin
The Shiseido version opens with more florals and fruit, there's a drier aspect to the cedar (pencil shavings) but at the same time a fruitier or more moist quality due to florals/fruits. Shiseido's FdB reveals a distinct animalic or indolic orange blossom. (indolic refers to the slightly sweaty or fecal note in some natural flowers - to get to know this quality sniff a bottle of pure organic jasmine absolute.)
Orange blossom in Shiseido's FdB is very clear to my nose because I have an absolute of orange blossom which I occasionally wear. I don't pick this up quite so much in the Lutens, so this, and a tiny touch of civet (urinous note) adds up to the fact that Shiseido's FdB is more animalic and distinctly more floral but with a lovely clean, transparent violet enhancing the plum.
I believe there's a slight 'five-spices' note in the Shiseido (reminds me of Chinese cooking) which must be due to Cinnamon and clove, yet this 5 spices/chinese cooking aroma isn't clear in the Lutens which also contains cinnamon and clove. I suspect this might be the stronger plum in Shiseido, since plum sauce is a feature in Chinese cooking!
All in all, the differences are fairly subtle, but I'd describe the Lutens as slightly greener, less floral and with more cedar. I believe the Shiseido is more complex and for want of a better word - prettier. Sillage isn't actually very different, but while the Shiseido lasts slightly longer, both dry down to a close-to-skin scent that's detectable as you waft past, not like, say, Opium or Coco, which unless worn very lightly tend to enter the room before you do. Also, in dry down both focus on cedar/cinnamon.
Ultimately it makes sense that FdB has a light, natural aesthetic since the Japanese tend not to favour perfumes that shout. But before you fork out for a vintage bottle of Shiseido, you might be just as happy with the Lutens. Or if perfumes tend to disappear on your skin, try Lutens Bois et Fruits which is actually slightly stronger than both.
I'm glad to have finally got the chance to compare and contrast, but the differences aren't huge, as they are for example in Rochas Femme in reformulation. Having said that, I've encountered a few reviews where people note a very marked difference in the two FdBs and infinitely prefer the Shiseido. I also prefer it, but believe the Lutens is a respectable re-formulation.
FdB reviews on other sites:
The Perfumed Dandy Bois de Jasmin Olfactoria's Travels
Have you tried one or both of them? What are your thoughts?