Saturday, February 4, 2012

Hanging Out with the Gorillas: Several Lush Scents

You can tell Mark and Simon Constantine, the father and son perfumers behind the Lush fragrances and their offshoots, first B Never Too Busy to Be Beautiful then Gorilla Perfume, are having a good time. The fragrances are touch and go but often at least interesting, and more often than not surprising. Some of them are very good.

The packaging, once pretty naff (hot glued dime store jewels! Confetti! Cheap metal pedestals!) is now avant garde utilitarian, basic black, allowing the scents to speak for themselves, unless you're venturing the wilds of the brick and mortar satellite stores, with all their ear-piercing, nose singeing, slumber party fanfare. I say visit Lush online, where no one will rush up to you with a mixing bowl and some mysterious mud they insist on slathering somewhere, because the fragrances are fun enough they don't require a rave party or a glow stick to get you revved up.

There's a bias against Lush - not just from people who are turned off by the noise- and air- and eye-pollution of these pungent, neon-saturated satellite stores - but from many perfumistas/bloggers, for whom anything short of 150 dollars and a certain kind of wan exclusivity is worthy only of meticulous disdain.

It's true, you probably won't sign a book deal writing about Lush. You won't be invited to dinner or court with Serge. There's a risk that people won't think you are discriminating, that you drink at home out of plastic cups and record episodes of Real Housewives of Beverly Hills for anything other than anthropological research.

It might even be true that people will avoid you altogether if you admit to admiring Karma, thinking you must not truly appreciate the original Coty Chypre, and question your judgment: after all, why would anyone who wants to be taken seriously admit to liking something so Mitsouko-oppositional? How will you get a regular column in the New York Times if you admit to appreciating anything so base?

Alas, I can't answer these questions. I can only put my unworthy bourgeois little tail between my legs and tell you what my favorites are among these pedestrian-centric scents. I've already written about other favorites (Karma, Icon, Orange Blossom, Tuca Tuca). These are the newest additions:


I couldn't get behind this one at first, let alone wrap my head around it, so it seemed certain I would eventually like it a lot. Like Andy Tauer's Pentachord Verdant, Dirty has a persistent minty diffusion that you're either going to love or write long essays about, citing its foulness, its failure, its unmitigated gall. Dirty has a strange aquatic thing going on, as well, which the snob nose will shorthand, stupidly, as "synthetic".  Aquatic and minty aren't things I myself get in line for typically. Add to this the name's confusion. Dirty isn't dirty at all; neither animalic nor grungy.  Some say skank. I don't get that either. I do get herbs: the tarragon, maybe, in addition to the mint. Maybe thyme? Who knows.  Like a lot of the Gorilla scents, Dirty has a weird kind of creamy base, which works well here, bridging its contrasts. There's something simultaneously metallic and organic about the fragrance, bracing but relaxed. The listed notes are tarragon, mint, thyme, oakmoss, and sandalwood. It coasts along indefinitely, infinitely reversing your decisions about it.


Dear John takes recognizable mainstream masculine motifs and twists them in some interesting directions. Vetiver, pine, and cedar are familiar territory, and while clove, coriander, lime and coffee aren't exactly strangers to the format, the overall combination feels just a little more interesting than the average fare. Just enough for me that you get a sense where so many of its kind go wrong. Dear John's coffee note isn't as forthcoming as in other masculines which make use of it. Neither is the clove.  The lime hops right out at you but settles down soon enough. It just wants to make sure you know it's there, and it plays nicely with the vetiver. At first you think you're smelling some country cousin of Guerlain Vetiver, all tart and woodsy. After a few minutes that comparison seems pretty suspect. The truth is I reach for Dear John far more often than I do GV, which in recent years has become so transparent that it's technically its own country cousin. The reason the comparison seems suspect, I think, is that Dear John is closer to the shock of pleasure I remember first smelling GV, years ago.


It's a brave fragrance that doesn't immediately busy itself apologizing for the rubbery, mentholated facets of Ylang Ylang.  The closest comparison I have for Cocktail is Aveda's Number 20, but even number 20 gets a little embarrassed by the direction it's taking, and back pedals about half way through, arranging itself in a more ladylike pose.  Cocktail has something in common with Tubereuse Criminelle in its boldness, and the price point confirms what Lutens works hard to deny: what makes this kind of juxtaposition so fantastic is essentially its straightforwardly crude approach. There's nothing delicate about it, and I'm not sure even Lush gets it right by calling this a fragrance for a fancy night out. Cocktail might be nocturnal, but it's heading for a speakeasy, and if pearls are part of the equation they're only an ironic means to a decidedly hedonistic end. That isn't to say Cocktail is animalic, which is usually the shorthand for a fragrance put to such uses.  Part of what makes Cocktail so wonderful to me is that it gets to the same place by entirely different strategies. It has the kind of good natured carnality no amount of civet or castoreum can match, and it's ultimately more about the fun of the hunt than the spoils anyway.


Back wen I first smelled this, it was my least favorite of its bunch (Tuca Tuca and Orange Blossom, which came out right around the same time). It's grown on me. What I disliked initially about Imogen Rose I now appreciate most: the dread powder. I spend so much time defending scents which don't really smell like powder against the accusations by non-perfume lovers who see it everywhere they look that when I do smell it I tend to dismiss it out of hand. Every time I smell Imogen Rose I like it a little more, so that now, a year or so later, I like it very much. The listed notes, in addition to the obvious, are iris root, ambrette seed, tonka bean, vetiver, and bergamot. I might have gotten used to the powder, but IR seems less powdery to me than it once did. What I smell now is iris, and IR has turned out to be one of my favorite uses of it.  I first thought IR was a bit dowdy as well. I don't get that anymore either. Go figure. IR reminds me a lot of Hermes Hiris, but it satisfies every expectation that Hiris disappointed. In the past year, I've looked to many niche fragrances for this kind of pleasure and richness, and found them lacking.  All this time, it was right under my nose.


I like 1000 Kisses, a strange little medley of apricot, mandarin, and (allegedly) resins, but it's such a light kiss that I might have subtracted several zeroes. 25:43 is more my style, and could use the extra digits in its name, giving its citrusy elements more oomph with vanilla, ylang, and a laurel note I find addictive. I suppose it comes down to the difference between sweet little batting-eye pecks on the cheek and an open mouth approach. As with many Gorilla scents (too many to name) I thought I didn't like 25:43 much at first. After wearing it for an afternoon I changed my mind. Apparently, Mark Constantine created the fragrance in honor of his son's wedding day, picturing his bride walking down the aisle, with lime and tonka. It was said to "capture the moment beautifully." Later, son Simon added the rest, because as we all know, the wedding aisle leads to the bedroom.

I haven't tried some of the latest Gorilla offerings like Twilight, Silky Underwear, and Rose Jam. Thoughts from those who have?


RM said...

Ok, so, I guess this would be the best time for me to admit that I HAVE actually recorded an episode of Real Housewives of Beverley Hills. Seriously, why do I feel the need to share this embarrassing tidbit of information for all the world to see?
Great reviews BTW - I've been wanting to try these for a while but just try and find them in my neck of the woods!

Brian said...

Oh I've recorded more than one, so don't feel too embarrassed. It's hard to believe there's a neck of the woods Lush HASN'T cornered, RM. they seem to be everywhere. Unfortunately I think these are the kind of scents you don't blind buy!

RM said...

How can we resist? Brandi's all like, "yeah, well, at least I'm not in the bathroom doing crystal meth all night!" and whats-her-face who's always drunk is all "you're a slut pig!". Ah, reality television GOLD!
Yes, that's how remote my neck of the woods are and I'm hearing you on the blind buy warning.

Anonymous said...

I'm commenting now because I love reading what you write. Frequently, I must live vicariously through reading perfume blogs because I am definitely "geographically marginalized" (grin) and my "neck of the woods" is far-removed from a metro area. Therefore, I don't have any experience with LUSH, their stores or their products.
However, I was on the hunt for a new jasmine scent and took a chance on ordering LUST from LUSH. I figured it was not so expensive that I would regret the purchase for long if it turned out to be horrible.
On my skin, LUST is a blast of jasmine that almost overwhelms on first spray.But after about 10 min. it softens nicely and stays around for a long time. I don't wear it every day, but when I have a craving for jasmine, it satisfies.
Because I think LUSH products are well-made, I may just order another of their fragrances for the fun of it.
Thanks for blogging!

queen_cupcake said...

"good natured carnality" mmm-hmmm, nice. I haven't tried any of the Lush frags, and will have to get over my bias against silly names. I mean, Gorillas don't smell good, do they? I know I'm the one being silly. And Be Never Be...something, what was it--oh dash it all! Imogen Rose sounds like a good place for me to start.

Tania said...

Though people often have a perception of Lush/Gorilla scents as having a cheap price point (I know I did), Persolaise pointed out to me that's not actually true. For instance, £28 for 30ml of 25:43 works out to £0.94/$1.49 per ml. Not so cheap. But then, as far as I know, they use good ingredients.

I'm still at the 'too powdery' stage with Imogen Rose. I'm not a huge fan of rose anyway. But I guess I could try it again. Your reviews are always so persuasive! :-)

I can't make up my mind about 25.43. But I think the vanilla is too gourmet for me. It's as if they used their Vanillary for a base, and I can't wear that one without getting hungry for Werther's Originals. It's just not a grown-up smell, to me.
And that's pretty much what I was left with after the citrus fizzed away (which was very quickly). Vanillary with sweet spices. And I get Playdoh, too. With a josstick stuck in it. So I'm not sure it's for me. Ah well.

Silky Underwear was a dusting powder, and available as a solid fragrance for a while. I still have that. I'll dig it out and let you know what I think.

No idea about Rose Jam, but I think that was a Lush forum exclusive. So was Twilight. I just hope it doesn't smell like sparkly vampires and overly-waxed werewolves.... ;-)
Though come to think of it, I have an old bottle of Twilight bath oil, produced in the 90s by Lush's parent-at-some-remove Cosmetics To Go. I seem to recall it's incensey. Labdanum, maybe some violet.... can't remember. I'll dig that out too. It may be they've found the old formula and done something with it.

Brian said...

Hey Tania, long time no...see. You're right. In terms of actual quantity, not such a steal. However, with so many perfumes starting at 50ml, and my cabinet so...full, I tend to get excited about smaller sizes, and in the end they're more economical--for me.

Abigail sent me a few forum exclusive samples a while back, among them Snowcake. I wasn't thrilled by any of them. Vanillary I go back and forth with, but it's mostly too much of something for me. Sometimes with Lush there's a dough (or playdough) quality I can either appreciate or not. Vanillary, not so much. Snowcake, no thanks. But in 25 it feels right for me somehow. I don't know why.

I'd be interested to hear what you're able to drag out.

Brian said...

Anonymous, I hear you when it comes to Lust. I think it's great after it settles down. Those first ten to twenty minutes are pretty intense.

I'm glad you commented!

Brian said...

BTW, Tania, another place that dough thing works for me is Tuca Tuca.

Dionne said...

You know, I've been popping in and reading ISTIA posts for.... oh, almost two years, and yet I don't think I've ever commented before.

Brian, thank you so much for this post and all the others that affirm that perfume is for ANYONE who loves it, despite our TV watching habits, geographical marginilization ;) or lack of high-end leather purses.

Seriously, thank you.

Tania said...


yes, I guess it's been a while! I now have a job where, who'da thunk it, they actually expect me to work while I'm there... ;-) So I get less time surfing.

I hear you. I often buy the smaller sizes myself, even though larger would be more cost-effective. Because it's not practical to carry around the bigger bottles, they tend to get neglected.

Ah yes, Tuca Tuca. I liked that one in theory, reading the notes, but I just can't wear it. The doughy note makes me feel a bit sick over time.

I found the Twilight bath oil, and it turns out to be ginger/lavender/sandalwood. It's sort of basic. I get the impression that if I mixed the essential oils myself, this is pretty much what I would get. But it's pleasant.

My Silky Underwear solid has turned a bit - or rather, it's wax base has. So I can't really judge it properly now. I've read it's jasmine, vanilla and vetiver, which sounds right.

While hunting for the bath oil, I found I still have a few of the old Cosmetics to Go, Lush and discontinued BNTB scents. Some are quite interesting.

Brian said...

I have that job, too, Tania. Makes blogging (more of) a challenge these days.

I relate Tuca Tuca to Guerlain Insolence (shock, horror, the blasphemy of comparing a Lush fragrance to the venerable house of Guerlain!). For me they handle violet in similar ways, taking it *this* close to gourmand. Insolence is a more mature variation, but I appreciate that Tuca doesn't take itself as seriously. And I think both maybe serve as an affront to some for similar reasons. I feel like both somehow do things with violet you're not really supposed to do. I haven't thought enough about it to tell you what that is.

I'm probably going to pass on Twilight, but I'm increasingly curious about the Silky Underwear. Thanks for your impressions.

Brian said...

Thanks, Dionne!

Oh that geographically marginalized comment, and the bit about the Birkin bag. How they have taken root in my mind ever since, and given me the right kind of perspective, and a few laughs. I'm really touched you stick with the blog and it always feels good to hear yet another affirmation that people love perfume--all kinds of perfume--for all kinds of different reasons, their own reasons.

Tania said...


I have to stress, I've no idea if the Forum exclusive Twilight bears any resemblance to the long-ago bath oil.

I do appreciate Tuca Tuca, it's a very different violet. I just can't wear it. I must try Insolence again, to see if I can get the thematic connection.
The tendency to do different things with violet is not a new thing for Constantine. BNTBTBB had Ladyboy, a violet and banana combo(I think you can still get that online).
And one of my older Constantine perfumes is an oil called simply V. It's violet leaf and deep, dark incense. I recall they sold it as 'perfume to wear when watching the X-Files'. Which will give you an idea how old it is :-). I might be wrong, but I think if you strip out the 'high' notes from Icon, V is what you would get.

I managed to get Silky Underwear to work - only the top layer was turned. And to me, it's perfect as a dusting powder scent. Not so much as a perfume.

I just ordered another Forum exclusive - Leap Frog. It's jasmine, rose, sandalwood and neroli.

Brian said...

Thanks, Tania! How does one access these forum exclusives?

Tania said...


I subscribe to their email newsletters. I got an email about Valentine's day specials, and one of them was the new Forum exclusive. I didn't have to log in to the forum, it was just there on the UK site to order.

Anonymous said...

Another lurker de-cloaking to comment, Brian:-)

This is timely, since I received my "Leapfrog" bottle and "25:43" sample from Lush today.

One on each wrist: they seem quite complementary. The "Leapfrog" put me in mind of "L'Aimant Creamy skin perfume", which my mum wore. The "25:43" didn't seem to have the same lasting power but I'll have to test it again on its own.

I too have got "V" and other CTG/BNTBTBB/Lush oldies too, which Tania mentioned. [Coincidentally, I sent samples of old "Icon" and "V" to Vanessa of "Bonkers about Perfume" so she could see what she thought of them, because she had liked the new "Icon".]

I check the Lush forum for Perfume Specials occasionally: that's how I got "The Olive Branch" in liquid form, which is lovely.

"Tuca Tuca" should have floated my boat but made me feel queasy, somehow, when I tested it, whereas "Insolence" edp is perfectly fine on. So I definitely agree that it is best to get samples of Gorilla perfumes first.

cheerio, and thanks for all the candid posts,

Anna in Edinburgh