I don’t think that I understood the whole Lush / Gorilla Perfumes concept until yesterday. That’s when I smelled one of their earlier entries – Sikkim Girls – for the first time.
I was immediately transported back to a head-shop in a mall, somewhere in the 1970’s, where I purchased small vials of patchouli and sandalwood oils, as well as “other products” useful to juvenile delinquents of a longer-haired persuasion. The smell of the place was exquisite – unforgettable. I may have kept my money away from the girly florals back then, but I never forgot their odor. And while I have since learned the glory and the name of jasmine absolute, it was not until I smelled Sikkim Girls that I realized when and where I had first smelled it.
Lush is – or aspires to be – the world’s head-shop. Minus those “other products”, of course, but adding the brilliant concept of head-shop cosmetics, in a kind of Bath-and-Body-Works-with-piercings way. Not surprising that these two stores reside in the same mall, albeit on opposite sides of the “international play-place”, where toddlers with genes from every corner of the planet share microbes from every corner of America. Normally I shop on the rive droite, but thankfully, I did cross over to the rive gauche and stepped back in time.
Sniffing through their Gorilla Perfumes product lineup, the most obvious thing was that they’ve gotten better at what they do. Everything seemed more plausible – more wearable – than the last time I had been in the store. This is not to say that things had lost their brilliantly artisan edge. The centerpiece sandalwood fragrance Smuggler’s Soul was every bit as intriguing to me as Breath of God was, the first time I set foot in Lush. The difference is that the newer fragrance doesn’t invoke the immediate regret that I can’t wear it everywhere and anywhere that I might want to be. Breath of God smelled like I’ve taken up smoking again. Smuggler’s Soul smells like I have my clothes laundered at World Market.
Smuggler’s Soul deserves a bit of discussion. It may not be “creamy” sandalwood, but it certainly is real sandalwood. I was sorely tempted to buy it, and when one thinks about the costs of ethical sandalwood, versus the other kind (hence the name), the fragrance is actually quite a steal. But – quite apropos – Sikkim Girls stole my heart.
The nice thing about Smuggler’s Soul is that less is more. Rather than cover up the naturally restrained sandalwood – which is as criminal an act as latex paint on exotic hardwood – Smuggler’s Soul lets the subtle sandalwood be subtle. Radiantly subtle, in a Timbuktu way, as pluran pointed out on Basenotes.
The other fragrances in the Lush lineup also deserve some mention.
Kerbside Violet is cute, and I think it’s perfect for the young ladies. Just a bit of the grassy and the mineralic, it has a studied “almost innocence” that seems like a nice introduction to violet for the younger but still hipper crowd. Personally, I like Bulgari’s approach to violet – “almost decadent”. Bulgari Pour Femme and their various “Blv” juices are just plain classy/sexy to me. They’re what Dad buys for Mom while Daughter shops at Lush. And if Daughter buys Kerbside Violet, then Dad and Mom can high-five on weekend nights alone for a job well done.
Karma. Wow. Not really sure where to begin. Perhaps with the admission that this is one of those great fragrances that I simply don’t like. The salient point is that there is a totally high-perfumery opposition between orange and patchouli which puts this in a league with some real classics. The problem for me is that this particular pairing simply doesn’t work. I want to love the patchouli, and the orange gets in the way. Insistently. Annoyingly. Disturbingly. In exactly the same way that a lot of the greatest fragrances achieve their greatness.
I’m not convinced that I couldn’t come around to this fragrance. But then again, why bother, when Sikkim Girls are winking and smiling? Forget it! See ya later, Karma!
There are others that were notable – and I sniffed them all.
Vanillary is – well – vanillary. It’s certainly pleasant. Didn’t really impress me, but very few vanilla fragrances do. I can see a lot of people loving this, but I’m just not one of them. In general, it takes an ornate vanilla like something from Creed or Guerlain to thrill me. Maybe a classic like Givenchy Pi, or a new twist like Pi Neo. B&BW and Lush are simply out of luck.
But I will say this. If I see one more fragrance that throws a nod toward Hillary Clinton, who just got off for stuff that would have thrown me into federal prison, I think I’m going to puke. I mean – really.
Typically it’s in the ad copy. “Today’s empowered woman” seems to be the “me-too” brief of 2016. But do not tell me for one second that the Hillary angle didn’t come up when Lush discussed the name of this scent at their annual meeting on a zip-line above the dolphin rescue park.
Please. Somebody just make a frigging Hillary Clinton celebrity fragrance so that 90% of the fragrance world can gush about how it’s the first truly great celebrity fragrance.
Or am I just being cynical? OK – I’m being cynical. Let’s move on, shall we? There’s a wee puddle of snark where I’m standing.
All Good Things came close to getting my money. I just love it when the fragrance matches the story so well. But this is an absolutely great fragrance, which takes the citrus-and-pepper brilliance of fragrances like Blenheim Bouquet in a whole new direction – the happily poignant. Very nice stuff. I’m a sucker for a good black pepper note, and this has one.
I was about to take what probably would have been the “buy sniff” of this fragrance, when Sikkim Girls rose off the ad hoc test paper, mingled with my Spicebomb, and said “Are you sure your old girlfriend is exotic enough for you now?”
Of course, she – I mean they – had a point. What was I thinking?
Very glad that the lovely sales associates at Lush got me to sniff this one. Not a buy, and not even as interesting to me as the others, but still memorable, and recommended to be sniffed. The ideas and odors of death and decay are perennial in perfume – not in a tired and cliché way, but in an essential way, that the best minds of fragrant composition are constantly trying to address. Whether it’s mainstream creations like Eternity (heavy on floral death via indoles), or ultra-niche creations like Slumberhouse Mare (where the humid and the woody were used to good effect), there are no comments more insightful on the transience of perfume – and everything else – than perfume’s own comments on transience.
Worth reading the backstory on this one here.
I smelled some of the others, but nothing really stood out.
Dear John was nice. Reassuring and nostalgic? Check and check.
Sun was very enjoyable. Sniff it – please. I’m almost angry that Sikkim Girls lured me away from Sun, but hey. THEY’RE SO AWESOME.
I don’t think I smelled Lust. Or did I? If I did, it didn’t catch my fancy.
Dirty? W. T. F.! It smells clean! Is that the joke? Whatever. Not my type. NOT DIRTY.
And now we get down to the WE MADE THE BUY stuff.
My wife is a rose lover, and this was a great way to get her something new in her favorite floral type. The story on this one is nice and innocent, but the fragrance itself does contain a touch of ambrette, so it has some real depth to it. Not as much depth as something like Rose Rebelle, with its rose / cacao / ambrette explosion, but depth nonetheless. The overall fragrance strikes me as a cross between the old Perfumer’s Workshop Tea Rose (typically $10 in Marshall’s) and Creed’s ornate Fleurs de Bulgarie. A combination of raw and refined, but both of them rich and full.
There is HUGE complexity here – and yet it’s a pure rose fragrance, stylistically. Most of this complexity comes from the use of rose absolutes, but there are clearly some pushes, pulls, and assists from supporting components. Not sure why, but I smelled a bit of violet in the mix, the first time I sniffed it. Your mileage may vary on that one – don’t worry. It may just be my imagination.
So – the time has arrived. THEY are here…..
As soon as I smelled this, I knew it was going to be bought. My first urge upon leaving the mall wasn’t to spray myself – it was to spray my car. I wanted to be utterly surrounded with this fragrance, and spot-spraying my own body simply wasn’t good enough.
What does Sikkim Girls smell like?
It smells like a chapter in Jitterbug Perfume. I don’t even want to know which one. Maybe all of them.
It smells like patchouli without patchouli. Spikenard without spikenard. India without India, and maybe even Sikkim without Sikkim. It’s like the zen of removing the last stone, and discovering – shockingly – that there’s still something left. All it is, is dirty flowers, and yet it smells like everything else.
There is some serious smart going on in this fragrance, but it’s as destined to be lost, unrecognized and forgotten, as was the artisan overachievement of Spiritual Sky fragrance oils, now only wisps of dead-head-ish lore in the internet annals of hippie fragrance – referred to lovingly in overly texty posts by gray-beards and white-hairs who actually used Usenet and don’t know what in the **** Pinterest and Instagram are.
The story behind Sikkim Girls is simultaneously essential and needless, like a trade advertisement for inspiration in perfumery. Nobody is going to truly appreciate it, except the people who already understand. The backstory to the fragrance is wasted on us – not because it isn’t true, but because the exact story of the inspiration matters far less than the fact that somebody actually bothered to care, in an age when caring doesn’t translate to most people’s bottom line.
A flick of the hips and a knowing smile
Subtle, seductive, heady, exotic, floral. Inspired by the Sikkim girls, soft sirens who seduced a Darjeeling café owner’s son-in-law, simply with the subtle and sensual sway of their bodies. The frangipani, jasmine, vanilla and tuberose conjure up exotic climes and heady possibilities. It may rest lightly on your skin, but beware the undercurrents it may stir within.
Actually, it’s a little more complex than that.
Sikkim Girls is a fragrance that was inspired by stories regaled to us by sitarist Sheema Mukherjee, who collaborates often with Simon Emmerson to create our Spa soundtracks. Whilst travelling in India, she heard rumours of the Himalayan Sikkim Girls; women so entrancing that, dressed from head to toe, they could seduce a man with just the subtle sway of their hips. The perfume is sensual, heady and floral. Exquisite jasmine, tuberose and frangipani absolutes to create an intoxicating fragrance that whispers of the exotic women that inspired it.
OK – I give up. There’s even more to the story. From Sarah English’s Pinterest:
New Gorilla Perfume – Sikkim Girls – Musician and composer Sheema Mukherjee was inspired after she had an experience with the Sikkim Girls. While hanging out in the oddly named ‘Hot Stimulating Café’ in Darjeeling, the café owner warned Sheema to stay away from the dangerous Sikkim Girls. When asked why, the owner said they had seduced and stolen away his son-in-law. Somehow they had accomplished this whilst covered head-to-toe and simply with a subtle yet sexual sway of their bodies.
To say that Lush took this all quite seriously is an enjoyable understatement. For your multi-sensory, multi-art pleasure, we present the video evidence…
I mean, really – what is life without the “art tent”?
Unenjoyable at best. Better a thousand cringeable moments of uncomfortable seating, bad acoustics, and one face-palm stage debacle after another, than to go through life without the wonderful moments of art joy which link them all together.
So let’s talk about the fragrance, and try to make some sense of our emotional response.
Floriental is an apt description, though perhaps a bit misleading, because there is nothing overtly oriental, in the normal ways of perfume construction, about it. Sikkim Girls is rabidly floral, and yet it seems to dodge the cliché attributes of both the standard floral feminine, and the standard unisex oriental, by letting all the non-floral debris and detritus of the floral absolutes take center stage, thereby alleging themselves to be something – say – oriental.
Is there patchouli in it, assisting the floral dirtiness? Some noses familiar with Gorilla Perfumes think so. There is certainly a chyprish harmony emerging from the massive florality which makes me suspect it. However, it is not a patch bomb by any means, and that is what really makes this one stand out in its genre.
Is there spikenard in it? It certainly has the “patchouli without patchouli” feel of spikenard, and yet I am not picking up the classic spikenard note that appears so overtly in L’Eau de Jatamansi, and so subtly in Creed Himalaya. Part of my thinks that Lush would list a component as worthy as spikenard, and part of me thinks they would be wise to leave it under the protective umbrella of “fragrance”, which is actually listed ahead of jasmine absolute on the bottle. Not having ever smelled spikenard in such a powerfully floral concoction before, I simply have to admit that I probably couldn’t identify it, even if it’s there.
Whatever. Sikkim Girls is supposed to smell exotically Himalayan, and it does. And don’t just take my word for it. Beyond the reviews on Basenotes, you won’t do much better than Jessica’s review on Now Smell This.
Basenotes lists this fragrance as unisex, and I feel the same. Although Sikkim Girls is massively floral, I hesitate to call it “feminine”, in the same way that I hesitate to call head-shops, waterbeds, pot pipes, Indian rose incense, or love-beads “feminine”. Any guy who likes jasmine, patchouli, or exotic fragrances with an Indian or Himalayan vibe, will find reason to consider this fragrance.
There was an Iranian guy on Basenotes, years ago, who was on a holy quest of some kind to find the ultimate “boozy jasmine”. I have no idea where he is now, but I am pretty darn sure I found his fragrance.
Boozy jasmines are useful – and in more ways than just being worn themselves. I am really looking forward to layering this thing with all sorts of insufficiently floral masculines. One of my favorite layering fragrances is Céline Ellena’s Jasmin de Nuit, which can and does add a nice floral character to anything. But whereas that fragrance is clear and transparent, Sikkim Girls is much richer and deeply floral, making it more assertive in combination.
Definitely one of the more unusual scents in my collection.
There is one question, however, which is still to be considered. A question that bothered me, until I took some time to answer it.
Is this story about “Sikkim girls” even slightly true? Or is this entire fragrance built on some sort of lie? You know. Like certain fragrances that the wife and I are quite partial toward, and which may or may not have ever involved use by European nobility.
You know what I’m sayin’?
And things could be even worse than that. What if this is all one big slander against the young women of Sikkim? What if these “stealthy sirens” are actually innocent young things – the original valley girls – who love boys with motorcycles and cars and can’t wait to go to the centuries-old equivalent of prom? What if they are in fact sweet young girls, who rescued some poor, hapless boy from an arranged marriage to the wicked daughter of a tyrannical restaurant owner?
See what I mean? We have to open our minds here.
Well, I’m happy to report that, in the words of “Mythbusters”, we have to call this one – at the very least – plausible. I’m not sure HOW it’s plausible, but it’s plausible.
Judging by the fur-rimmed hats, braided hair, and characteristic dress of the ladies on the label, they are likely to be Bhutias – a Tibetan people who speak Sikkimese, a Tibetan language which is partially intelligible to speakers of both standard Tibetan and the Bhutanese language, Dzongkha.
The Bhutia are considered to be one of the three main ethnic groups in Sikkim today, and one of the two indigenous peoples of Sikkim, along with the Lepcha, with whom there has been some degree of diplomatic intermarriage over the years. That being said, the ethnographic history of Sikkim, Nepal and Bhutan is rather complex, and – in my humble opinion – calling anybody there indigenous becomes a bit of a stretch. However, it can be stated with certainty that those two older and somewhat allied peoples – the Bhutia and the Lepcha (pictures #3 and #2 above) – are the predominant inhabitants of the more mountainous and sparsely populated North Sikkim today. These groups are also present as both residents of and visitors to Darjeeling, where the story behind Sikkim Girls takes place.
The demographics of North Sikkim include a sex ratio of 769 females for every 1000 males, which is closely linked to the historical prevalence of polyandry (and particularly fraternal polyandry) in the Himalayan region. Apparently, the practice hasn’t died out completely, although it has certainly declined in favor of increasingly monogamous marriage. One source, however, considered it quite common even in the 1990’s, particularly in the high-valley back-country, and goes into great detail about the rules of polygamous marriage among the Bhutia and Lepcha.
So – gender and sex relations in Sikkim are indeed a bit different. We do need to be careful about passing judgment here, with our Western biases. But the real question remains simple. Would some exotic Bhutia-Lepcha hillbilly girls actually seduce and run off with a (presumably) non-Bhutia son-in-law, working at his father-in-law’s restaurant?
Well, it is true, apparently, that husbands in Sikkimese cultures may be forced to live with and possibly work for the bride’s parents, as horrible as that may seem. And – apparently – divorce in Sikkim is relatively straightforward, rarely going to court. So it looks like the son-in-law may have had means, motive, AND opportunity.
But would he cross ethnic lines? That is a bigger question. Thirty years ago, I might have thought not, but today? Sikkim is definitely in a state of ethnic and cultural flux – and even more so after it became part of India. As Satyendra Shukla put it (cited here)
Thus, Sikkim these days is a big cultured laboratory, where different blends are being mixed up and a synthetic culture part Bhutia, part Nepali and part Indian – is coming up.
This is not to say that ethnic assimilation in Sikkim has been rapid, with one recent analysis actually concluding the opposite. However, any slowness of cultural blending needs to be considered within the high degree of inter-ethnic tolerance and neighborliness which Sikkim is known for. But I would still say, that, once Sikkim became part of India, an accelerated cultural blending was probably not just inevitable , but irreversible.
Thus, at this point, we are left with a single question. Would young and foolish members of these traditionally separated ethnic groups decide to chuck convention to the wind and ….. well…. WHATEVER?
Ha. Young people. Do the math on THAT ONE.
So what is the point of it all?
Yes. I said it. Nothing.
We need to be honest here. There is no point to fragrance. There is no point to the story about WHY a fragrance was made, nor even to whether that story is true or false.
Fragrance. Doesn’t. Matter.
And yet fragrance, like showing up in the “Hot Stimulating Café” in Darjeeling, and stealing the owner’s son-in-law – for good or bad – is fun, and occasionally exciting. It does something to make the universe – at the very least – more interesting. And tonight, as I sit here sniffing a bunch of liquids in bottles, including one called Sikkim Girls, that’s enough.
Stay fragrant, my fellow perfumaniacs. Stay fragrant.