The Hype Machine is a series that takes a critical look at well-loved, cult classic, appears-in-every-other-Instagram-photo products and asks: are they worth the hype?
Byredo has become the fragrance house of choice for the chic and social media-savvy, a photogenic darling that appears in almost every Into the Gloss Top Shelf. We see the elegant yet no-fuss bottles owned by elegant yet no-fuss people, and we ask ourselves, "Will Byredo make me that cool?" At least, that's what I asked myself after seeing bottles of Gypsy Water and Bal d'Afrique all over the internet. So I procured a slew of Byredo fragrances in various forms: manufacturer's samples (pictured above), handmade splits and sample vials, and full bottles.
My initial impression of the Stockholm-based line was "cool and modern." The bottles are simple: round glass, white label, black block print. The names are evocative and interesting--how can you not want to try something called Baudelaire?! And the note breakdowns imply fascinating surprises, like the "carrot and pimento berries" top notes in Seven Veils. Suffice to say, I had high expectations.
A few of Byredo's fragrances managed to meet, or almost meet, those expectations. I figured I would enjoy Oud Immortel because oud is one of my favorite notes, and sure enough, it's fabulous. When you first apply this fragrance, you get the strange, exotic bitterness and sensuality of the oud, but there's also the bright, sharp, slightly acidic scent of lemons. It's a thrilling and spiky start. Oud remains the star player, but it's backed by different notes as the day progresses: patchouli and rosewood make the middle more balsamic, and it all ends with a base of moss, patchouli, and wet leaves. It's all very punk rock and dangerous.
Seven Veils is also an interesting addition to the line. It's a grown-up gourmand, insofar as it always smells delicious, but never goes in to "cheap candle" territory. While the top does include those interesting carrot and pimento berry notes to add some spice and texture, the main player in this one is the vanilla. It's warm, sweet, and tasty throughout. Though relatively linear, Seven Veils does end with a slight tangy note.
Perhaps the highest quality Byredo fragrance I tried was Mojave Ghost. This is one of the sweetest fragrances I've ever smelt, to the point that I--queen of the "fragrance has no gender" mantra--have a hard time seeing it as anything but "traditionally feminine." That being said, this fragrance develops throughout the day and takes the wearer on a journey, which I appreciate. It starts out with full-on Jamaican naseberry (aka sapodilla), and you get this fruit in both smell (extremely sweet) and texture (slightly grainy). As the day progresses, Mojave Ghost becomes thicker and heavier; I get the impression of flower petals and fruit rinds stomped in to a thick syrup. The drydown pushes the fruits and florals to the background and focuses on a woodsy, almost vanillic musk. It's not my type of scent, but I appreciate its quality.
My favorite of the bunch is probably Black Saffron, a sweet, smooth fragrance that's often compared to Tom Ford Tuscan Leather because they both contain raspberry and leather. But Black Saffron isn't an exact dupe of Tuscan Leather. Black Saffron has a sweeter raspberry, a softer leather (think suede), and an overall less dramatic feel than the Tom Ford offering. It somehow manages to be very wearable despite the note breakdown. Though it is quite linear, it's such a nice smell that I don't mind the lack of change. I actually have a full bottle of this one!
The thing is...none of these smelt particularly new to me, nor did they smell like the "best version" of X type of fragrance out there. Yes, Oud Immortel is a good oud with some interesting qualities, but does it smell better than some of my favorite oud fragrances, like House of Matriarch Blackbird? Not a chance; I'd choose Blackbird over Oud Immortel any day. How does Seven Veils compare to other vanillas on the market? Well, it's good, but it's not as heady as Thierry Mugler Alien Essence Absolue or as cozy as Imaginary Authors Memoirs of a Trespasser. They don't stand out from the crowd. And this ended up being my reaction to most of the Byredo fragrances: they didn't live up to their cool names or the hype around them.
Take the two roses I tried, Rose Noir and Rose of No Man's Land, as an example. Both names sound fascinating: Rose Noir conjures up images of something dark, sexy, and mysterious, while Rose of No Man's Land suggests you'll be getting something truly different and unearthly, or at least something with a sort of "journey" to it. But that's not what you get. Rose Noir starts sweet and slightly spicy, then quickly fades in to a pleasant but simple green rose with a bit of an airy quality. Rose of No Man's Land feels more like Rose of Every Man's Land, insofar as it's the same rose I've smelt on every other perfume wearing woman throughout my life. Yes, the opening is kind of interesting--it has a sort of mildewed quality that I find weirdly appealing--but again, that opening quickly fades in to something boring.
That's not to say that Rose Noir and Rose of No Man's Land smell BAD, because they don't. They smell fine. They're just...really bland and run-of-the-mill. And at this price point, with this level of hype, I better get more than just "run-of-the-mill."
Then there are the fragrances that just didn't work for me. I sort of knew Blanche wouldn't be a favorite of mine because the note breakdown includes plenty of white florals and powdery notes, and powdery isn't usually my thing. I didn't expect the overbearing "cleanness" of it, however; it actually smells like laundry detergent on my skin. Buyers who are in to intensely clean, powdery, and chemically white fragrances may enjoy this one, but I find those buyers are few and far between.
The oh-so-popular Bal d'Afrique was another fail for me; as soon as it hit my skin, it smelt like plastic, cheap sunscreen, and lemon Pledge. Shortly after applying Bal d'Afrique, I went to the theater to see Hotel Transylvania 2 (because I'm an adult), and I noticed that there were small children sitting all around me. I occasionally noticed something that smelt vaguely like urine and I assumed it was the children...until I got out of the theater and realized it was me. Something about this one stinks like straight-up pee on my skin! Maybe it's the jasmine they used, because jasmine can smell quite fecal, or the fruits and musks just don't blend well with my chemistry. But that bad smell is definitely there. To be fair, the drydown is decent on my skin: it's an unusually smooth and soft vetivier. But a few hours of not-so-bad vetivier do not make up for the rest of it.
Shortly after receiving my manufacturer's samples, I contacted Byredo and asked them if I should try 1996 or M/Mink. They responded within the week and sent a very helpful and thoughtful email. But after trying almost half of the line, I've come to the conclusion that Byredo fragrances aren't worth the price for me. Maybe I'll try M/Mink in the future, but for now, I think I'll leave the line to the fashionistas and the cool guys.
BOTTOM LINE: Byredo makes some lovely fragrances, but very few are unique or outstanding. Much of the love for this line seems to come from the scents' wearability and the brand's "chic factor." Best for folks who like easy-to-wear standards that will look great on their vanity.
The Hype Machine is a series that represents my experiences and opinions. It is not meant to be a personal attack on a specific company, product, or consumer. I always recommend that you try products for yourself and see how they work for you. Everybody is unique, after all!