Suzanne's Perfume Journal

Caron Yatagan

week or more taking care of his father, who was recovering from major heart surgery. Maybe because I was missing him so much, or perhaps because I’d never smelled such a strange fragrance before, the intensely masculine scent of Yatagan all but took my breath away.  In the evening in my empty house, I sprayed my newly-arrived bottle of Yatagan with abandon and sniffed it until the brutal dryness of the scent and the bone dryness of the air in our drafty, forced-air heated house conspired to leave me with a bloody nose.  It’s true: I literally sniffed this scent until blood ran out of my nose, and as if that wasn’t proof enough that I had become a perfumista-gone-over-the-edge, I got up the next morning and sprayed myself again.

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I remember the first time I smelled Yatagan: it was January 2007, and my husband had been out of town for a

If you’re a regular reader of this journal, you have probably surmised that I have a fondness for intense scents.  I tend to crave what my husband has labeled the “zowwy jackpot” experience, and Yatagan is one of those fragrances that deliver it.  It is a compellingly odd scent: dry as a skeleton left in the desert, leathery like old army boots, herbal in a frontier-medicine kind of way, and with an ashy quality on top of it all.  Yatagan reminds me of a tumbleweed that has rolled through the burning remains of a ghost town—and rolled out of that burning town fast enough to accumulate ashes and soot but not become engulfed in flames.  I suppose the closest approximate to Yatagan outside the perfume realm is a smudge stick—a small, tightly-tied bundle of white sage and other dried grasses and herbs, burnt and used as a censer by some Native American tribes in their spiritual practices.

With those images in mind, Yatagan, for me, is the scent of the American West, but I would be remiss if I didn’t state that the House of Caron, which launched the fragrance in the mid-1970s, named it for a Turkish saber and describes it on their website as a scent evoking “the Orient and its far-off adventurous destinations.”  Since I have never been to any of the countries of the Orient other than in my imagination—and because I imagine the Orient to smell of spices, precious resins like frankincense and myrhh, and rich florals— none of which Yatagan has—I can’t really make that association.   I would agree, however, with Caron’s description of it evoking far-off adventurous lands, and would go so far as to suggest that some of the places it evokes are rather desolate, too.  Smelling Yatagan, I am often reminded of an October day that my husband and I spent bicycling through a vast stretch of land that is the National Elk Refuge in Jackson Hole, Wyoming.  The endless acres of sage grass on either side of the dusty dirt trail; the huge expanse of blue sky; the light dry wind that comes from being at a place of high altitude on a clear day; and the horizon of imposing mountains: to me, that is the smell of Yatagan.

Of course, Yatagan is so masculine one can’t help but think of cowboys, too—the kind who work the ranches but don’t own them, spending days in dirt-caked leather chaps, under a withering sun, and occasional nights on the town in run-down honky-tonks, where the smell of bar sweat and stale ashtrays lingers in their hair and is carried back into the wide open on their shirts, before it dissipates into the blue, like a prayer.


Caron Yatagan has top notes of artemesia, wormwood, lavender and petitgrain; heart notes of vetiver, patchouli, pine needle and geranium; and base notes of leather, labdanum, castoreum, and styrax.  It can be purchased at numerous online etailers, usually for the price of a song.

Image: painting titled Rams Head White Hollyhock and Little Hills by Georgia O'Keefe, 1935.

May 1, 2008: