In a Men’s Journal article this year, Juniper Ridge founder/perfumer Hall Newbegin said:
The fragrance industry is dictated by the narrow grammar set up by the French 200 years ago — floral equals feminine, musk equals masculine…. This idea that only 10 noses in Paris understand fragrance, it's just smoke and mirrors.1
Newbegin thinks many of today’s colognes smell like crap2: “...thin, fake, grody, and turned up to 11."
The contemporary perfume world is a big and varied place; and the women=flowers, men=musk idea is outdated; now, mainstream perfumes follow a formula that’s more women=candy and men=tonka beans and ozone. Today, musk is white (and decidedly unisex) — clean and redolent of the laundry room in full swing: dryer sheets swirling, detergent bubbling.
Juniper Ridge makes its perfumes “in the field”: collecting raw materials from a particular wild place using “machetes and chain saws and pickup trucks”3 and a whiskey still that’s been altered to process all manner of herbs, leaves, wildflowers, and bits of trees. The Juniper Ridge website states that...
We are the world’s only wild fragrance company. We’re hikers and backpackers, not fashion or luxury-industry types. We distill colognes and perfumes from real plants, bark, moss, mushrooms, and tree trimmings found hiking the backcountry. A hundred years ago all perfumes were made this way. Today, we’re the only ones who handle every step of the process ourselves, from beginning to end.
I’m sure many indie natural perfumers out there would disagree with this boast?
Juniper Ridge’s rusticity is a touch self-conscious (they are based in Oakland, California) — perhaps it's a marketing ploy to attract city boys who dream of life in the wild (or at least a long vacation there). But every company needs its niche and its tactic to lure consumers, and I could care less about Juniper Ridge’s PR stance or he-man distillery practices; I just want to smell the perfumes, and if they’re good, or as advertised: “The Mountains in a Bottle,” who cares about the rest?
Caruthers Canyon Backpacker’s Cologne
desert pine and cedar, sagebrush
Caruthers Canyon presents a lush — almost “smoky” — cedar experience; the woods are green-tinged (dill? tangy compost bin accord?), with a “dirty” element. On one day, this dirty aroma was sensual (a backpacker who showered in the morning and was only a couple of hours into a hike) and on another day it was downright filthy (the stale-sweat, sebum-caked armpits of someone who had not showered in a week). Caruthers Canyon delivers on Juniper Ridge’s promise of the scent of unadorned (and un-scrubbed) nature in a bottle. Though the sillage is not powerful, I’d be wary of wearing Caruthers Canyon anywhere outside my home (wearing it outdoors would be OK, too). If you love funky aromas, and the scent of unwashed humans mingling with the smells of "raw" woods…do try Caruthers Canyon!
Siskiyou Backpacker’s Cologne
conifers, cedar, mushrooms, moss
At first, Siskiyou is brighter than Caruthers Canyon; it’s as if the buoyant, sparkling elements of conifers (pine, redwood) have been extracted from the needles and bark. Minutes after application, a “foody” aroma emerges (“mountain” ceviche made with mushrooms and sap instead of seafood and citrus). Siskiyou smells like you've fried a simple supper on an open fire in the middle of the woods, using an ancient iron skillet and lard; imagine sniffing a wool sweater or jacket (or head of hair) that’s absorbed cooking aromas: grease, fried pancake batter, gravy. A better name for this perfume would be Siskiyou Campfire Cologne. Only at the end of its development does Siskiyou revert to conifer/cedar aromas (light and airy by this time).
Both Siskiyou and Caruthers Canyon disappear on my skin quickly (Siskiyou in 60 minutes, Caruthers Canyon in about three hours); based on that criteria, the perfumes are expensive. Since both of these scents are available in Cabin Sprays (home fragrance) at double the ounces for $35 less, I’d be curious if they’d be as good on skin, given the short duration of the perfumes. Also, keep in mind Juniper Ridge colognes have harvest numbers on their labels denoting a particular batch (the scents vary from batch to batch).
Verdict? Juniper Ridge perfumes are interesting, unique, devil-may-care in character...and worth a sniff.
After spending two days wearing Siskiyou and Caruthers Canyon, I decided I preferred my cedar perfume to smell more like Christian Lacroix Tumulte. The night after I finished my Caruthers Canyon testing, I scrubbed myself with a washcloth saturated with frankincense and myrrh bath gel and then dabbed on a drop of circa 1970 Jean Patou Joy parfum. Boy, I love me some of that Paris perfume crap.
Juniper Ridge Siskiyou and Caruthers Canyon perfumes are packaged in splash bottles, 60 ml, $100; Cabin Sprays are 120 ml/$65.
Note: top image [cropped] via Wikimedia Commons.
1. Men’s Journal, August 2013, by Adam Fisher: Juniper Ridge is Tracking a New Scent
2. Newbegin used a more colorful term.
3. Men's Journal, Juniper Ridge is Tracking a New Scent.