A “spicy iris modern chypre” that “exquisitely mirrors Duke Ellington's unforgettable masterpiece”? I adore iris, chypres, and Duke Ellington. Sign me up! At least, this is what I thought when I read the launch announcement about Ys Uzac Satin Doll in July. Satin Doll’s PR copy included another teaser, saying that the iris was “embraced by a bitter and dry tuberose.” I adore tuberose, too, but often it doesn’t sit right on me. Maybe a bitter and dry tuberose would be just the ticket. The rest of Satin Doll’s notes are entrancing, too. Besides iris and tuberose, they include pink pepper, elemi, pepper, rose, jasmine, myrrh, incense, patchouli, opoponax, and benzoin. Really, doesn’t this perfume sound perfect?
Sadly for me, although Satin Doll is nice, it doesn’t communicate the beauty, swing, and freakiness of Ellington’s song.1 Instead, the fragrance hints at all of these elements but is overwhelmed by what comes off as sharp, peppery wood.
Let’s go through Satin Doll’s major elements. First, the iris. Satin Doll’s iris is subtle and rich, but not insistent. The iris blends with the rest of the fragrance’s floral heart for an off-dry, pretty scent. I’m sure the tuberose is in there somewhere, and rose wets it a bit. But if you’re an iris fan and want a big whiff of it, try something else.
Next, Satin Doll’s “modern chypre” aspect. Satin Doll does dare to shine a bit of chypre allure, even though it’s cleaned up. After about an hour of wear, as the florals melt away, a hint of the fustiness I get from oakmoss emerges, but it’s cleaner — almost soapy — and not as fuzzy and earthy as oakmoss. A grand chypre can be ugly and spellbindingly gorgeous at the same time, sort of like Maria Callas. Satin Doll is more like Keira Knightley with a mole.
Finally, the “spicy.” Satin Doll packs a lot of pepper and what smells like fresh wood shavings, and not sweet sandalwood shavings, either. To me, they overwhelm the rest of the fragrance from the get-go, and they march on right through to Satin Doll’s end about five or six hours later. Along the way, they pick up a hint of soapiness.
To me, Satin Doll is a great concept that went off the rails somewhere. (If you love it, though, please chime in!) In the meantime, I’m waiting for the fragrance that makes like the song and is “out cattin’ that Satin Doll.”
Ys Uzac Satin Doll is available in 100 ml Eau de Parfum Haute Concentration for $230. For information on where to buy it, see Ys Uzac under Perfume Houses.
1. Satin Doll, written by Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn in 1953, was at first an instrumental. (You can see the Duke himself play it with his orchestra here.) Johnny Mercer wrote its fabulously weird lyrics a while later. For a sample, here’s the song’s opener: “Cigarette holder which wigs me, Over her shoulder, she digs me.” It's worth looking up the rest.