Say you adore Guerlain Shalimar’s feel of silk velvet amber and stained glass, but its lemon is too sharp or its civet turns your stomach. Or maybe Shalimar is too recognizably Shalimar, and you don’t want to be so easy to peg. It could be you simply crave a throwback oriental fragrance with more sophistication than the average department store amber. If so, try a sniff of Papillon Bengale Rouge.
Bengale Rouge’s notes include sandalwood, honey, orris butter, myrrh, Turkish rose, tonka, benzoin, labdanum and vanilla. Bengale Rouge was inspired by Papillon’s founder Liz Moores’s Bengal cat Mimi. As far as the visual can reflect the olfactory, the image of a Bengal cat — maybe seated on a velvet cushion and painted in oil in the 1920s — is a solid interpretation of Bengale Rouge.
To me, Bengale Rouge smells like a honeyed Shalimar with the rough edges sanded away. The fragrance kicks off with a bare tingle and sepia-hued rose and ylang ylang wrapped in honey and benzoin that sometimes throws off a whiff of cinnamon or sweet tea. Really, though, Bengale Rouge is all about its lush, warm foundation notes. Benzoin adds the glassy sweetness that is, I think, partially responsible for its sisterhood with Shalimar. Myrrh gives structure, and wood and labdanum soften and round it out. Both vanilla and honey are noticeable — vanilla especially so in the dry down — but they’re not even close to pastry case levels.
Bengale Rouge easily lasts all day and packs a healthy sillage, especially during its first few hours. (My testing was from a sample vial, and sillage might be more expansive from an atomizer.)
Bengale Rouge feels comforting and, well, basic — a cool-weather, flapper-esque basic, if you can imagine that combo. Unlike Shalimar, while it has muscle, it isn’t a diva. I’d feel comfortable layering a few drops of a dark rose or mandarin or even a leather fragrance over Bengale Rouge in the evening, just as someone might accessorize a golden cashmere pullover with a silk scarf one day and tribal jewelry the next.
I’m happy with Shalimar and mutt cats from rescue organizations, but that doesn’t mean that dreams of Bengals — or, calling Marchesa Casati, cheetahs! — and smooth, retro orientals don’t grab me. If you feel the same way and are in the market for a winter perfume, Bengale Rouge might be the answer.